Downeast Dog News

A Dog's View

It might be very different than you imagine!
By | Dec 30, 2016
Photo by: Moxi at 8 weeks - her first experience on leash. She's pulling and doesn't know what to do. She hasn't learned the skills yet.
“I’m now trying to see the world from my dog’s perspective – I had no idea how different things seem to him.”

These words were music to my ears because they came from a puppy class student following a class field trip. The turning point for my student was when she witnessed puppy after puppy in the class, including her confident bulldog, refuse to walk across a section of shiny black tiles despite the yummy stuff just two feet away on the other side. To the puppy, the shiny black tile, a stark contrast to the white tile on either side, looked like a dangerous drop off… or maybe black liquid.. or both; it signaled danger.

This setting offers my students a clear view into the doggie mind. It is also a great opportunity to systematically socialize each puppy and help each one gain confidence in what he found to be a scary situation. After just a few moments of strategic and thoughtful training, every puppy was able to walk back and forth across the flooring with ease.

It doesn’t matter how much our dogs love us or how well they are trained; if they think their safety is at risk, they will do what they think they need to do to be safe, first and foremost. Every species puts self-preservation at the top of its priority list.

The epiphany my student had will carry her far. She has learned that dogs do not see the world in the same way we do. She will be very attentive to her dog’s body language so that she can see when he might feel unsafe. Best of all, she’ll know what she can do to help him.

Believe it or not, this story is pertinent to solving many of the complaints we have about our dogs’ behavior, from simple skill building to overcoming fears. Taking the time to take off the human world filters and see the world from our dog’s perspective can help us create a plan to successfully modify behaviors.

Modifying Behaviors:

First question: Does he feel safe? “Yes” has to be the answer before learning can take place.

Second question: What’s in it for him? We know from my last article that we have to have a clear idea of what we want the dog to do instead before we can expect any behavioral change.

“Pulling on leash” was one of the top three challenges submitted to me recently. If a dog is lunging and barking, he probably doesn’t feel safe and steps need to be taken to help him feel comfortable (this subject is for a future article).

Dogs pull on leash because it works – it’s as simple as that! From a dog’s perspective, all he wants is to get to Point B - it doesn't matter what we want. When he tries, there is tension in the leash so he pulls harder and gets closer to his goal. Pulling just worked, therefore it’s something he will try again in the future.

If we want our dog “not to pull,” we have to: 1) make sure pulling never works; and 2) generously reward what we do want, such as walking by our side. Using appropriate gear that prevents (not punishes) pulling such as the Easy Walk Harness can be instrumental in the process.

We cannot get away from the necessity of rewarding the behaviors we do want in order to help form new habits. "Reward" comes in many forms!

As we welcome in the New Year, let's welcome in a greater understanding of the world our dogs see!