Dog Psychology

Even dumb dogs are clever. Just think of the many ways they get humans to do what they want. Few can resist the soulful eyes and the offered paw when eating something the dog also views as tasty.

One of the reasons for the many-thousand year association between humans and dogs is the latter’s great capacity for communicating in terms the former can understand. How often has your canine companion delivered a tennis ball with a look that you unerringly interpret as ‘time for fetch’?

These are only two examples out of many that show dogs have a great capacity for learning complex behavior.

Dogs can understand a surprising amount of language and body posture, but they process information very differently from humans.

Their eyes respond very differently to colors and have a greater ability to see in low light. Their head muscles allow them to rotate their ears in order to quickly and accurately locate the precise source of sounds. And, of course, there’s that famous sense of smell.

The differences continue on other levels of mental functioning. Dogs understand cause-effect relationships very unlike their human companions.

Classical conditioning – associating a stimulus with a response – can be much more readily surmounted in humans. Humans are much better at changing an undesired response to a car accident or a trip to the doctor. Those associations are much more persistent in dogs.

Operant conditioning – grasping naturally related cause-effect relationships, usually through positive and negative reinforcement – is even more different between the two species.

I always exit the rear door with my Golden Retrievers when we’re going to play fetch. When I do, we invariably do actually play. By contrast, a hundred times I let them out the side door, where I never follow them. Instead, I leave them alone for half an hour or more. Yet they still go immediately to the back door where they expect a game to follow.

I clearly associated a specific tone and word and a unique hand gesture with every command. In consequence, they learn a wide variety of selected behaviors. They can sit, stay, down, come, roll-over, no-bite, fetch and release, even eliminate on command.

Yet telling them repeatedly not to eat things off the ground that their own experience continually shows them leads to upset stomachs is a waste of effort. They’ll repeat the same unwanted behavior the first time they can. They simply can’t grasp some effects when the cause is much earlier in time.

The lesson from these examples is this. Your companion, whether Retriever or Shepherd, Dachshund or Basset Hound can learn an astounding variety of things, provided you don’t expect the unreasonable.

One woman well-known on the show circuit has trained her friend to perform a complex, several-minutes long dance routine. Search-and-rescue dogs have been trained to pull children from rivers and skiers from avalanches. Service dogs can open a door and pull a wheelchair or fetch a container of water without spilling a drop.

But don’t expect them to think like humans, even when trained to emulate us. No matter how many times you tell them not to, they’ll continue to eat grass.

Dog Training – A Dog’s Nature

Dogs are surprisingly complex creatures.

Some official estimates of the number of breeds reaches as high as 800 in Western countries alone. Even given that distinguishing one breed from another can be carried to absurd extremes, the variety is astonishing from a human perspective, who have, perhaps, a dozen ‘breeds’.

Complicating the picture still further is the well-known fact that dogs have descended from wolves but began domestic interaction with humans over 10,000 years ago. As a consequence, there are behaviors that develop regardless of circumstances and some that are as unique as the human the dog is paired with. Still, some common traits stand out.

Dogs are predators.

That doesn’t mean they necessarily hunt and attack every passing cat or rat, but the capacity is always in them. With acute hearing and head muscles that allow precise orientation of their ears, dogs can pick up a range of sounds and locate the source quickly and with high accuracy.

A dog’s field of vision is higher than that of humans. Their field of view has been estimated from 180-270 degrees, by comparison to a human’s 100-150 degrees, allowing them to track events better.

And, of course, there’s that famous sense of smell. Citing figures such as having 25 times as many scent-receptor cells or being able to sense concentrations 100 million times smaller than humans conveys the fact one way.

Another is to report behavior. Golden Retrievers, for example, can smell gophers through two feet of packed snow and a foot of frozen earth. And, they’ll dig through it to get to the gopher. That’s predatory behavior.

Dogs are social animals.

That’s common knowledge, of course. But, though known, it’s often ignored. Individuals will often lock a lone dog away in a garage or pen, or on a rope in the yard for long periods. This isolation from contact with humans and other animals invariably leads to fear and/or aggression and other forms of maladjustment. Dogs need companionship in order to develop healthy behavior.

Isolating a dog for brief periods can be a useful training technique. Fear of expulsion from the pack can incent overly assertive, alpha-status seeking dogs into alignment with the trainer’s goals. In any human-dog pair, the human must be the alpha (leader). The alternative is property destruction, human frustration and unsafe conditions for people and dogs.

But excessive time devoid of social interaction with another dog, the human, or even a friendly cat harms the dog’s psychology and leads to unwanted behavior. Even guard dogs have to be able to distinguish between external ‘threats’ and members of its own ‘pack’.

Dogs are exploratory.

Like the two-year-old humans at roughly their same mental level, dogs learn by exploring their environment. And like those humans, they can engage in destructive behavior. Dogs are no respecters of property. Training and an appropriately selected set of objects and suitable area can channel that behavior into something acceptable to humans and healthy for the dog.

Providing toys with characteristics very distinct from human property, such as rawhide bones rather than rubber balls that are hard to tell from children’s, leads to less confusion and misbehavior. In many cases, however, the problem is solved by scent. The dog’s toys may look like the child’s, but smell very different.

Some amount of digging may be inevitable as part of the dog’s exploration. Be prepared to patch holes in lawn if the dog is unsupervised for very long. Plants can usually be protected with cayenne pepper paste, bitter apple and other preparations.

Dogs are scavengers

Dogs will eat deer droppings, even when they have perfectly sound and ample diets. They’ll chew on dead rats, eat grass and ingest a wide variety of things that their own experience shows causes upset stomachs. And they’ll repeat the behavior day after day.

Acknowledging their limited ability to connect cause and effect when those are separated in time is a must in order to keep them healthy and safe.

Recognizing a dog’s nature, and working within in it rather than against it leads to less frustration for both human and dog. Enjoying the beneficial aspects, such as spontaneous dog hugs (leaning into a leg), paw offering and a head laid on the lap are just a few of the rewards.

Dog Behavior

Understanding Dog Behavior

Understanding our dog’s behavior can sometimes be a challenge. If only we could speak dog! However, there are some clues that dogs give us to help us better understand them. If you take the time to understand how your dog experiences the world around him, the less frustrated you will be be. Here are some tips to better understand dog behavior.

Barking at the mailman

No matter how well acquainted the two are, your dog always bark whenever the mailman comes to your door. In this case, your dog may feel that he has some power in getting the person to leave. The mailman does leave shortly after your dog started barking. Your dog will think that he was responsible for this.

Moving away when you pet his head

Many people are under the impression that the way to pet a dog is to pat the top of his head. In fact, this movement is perceived a sign of dominance not affection. A much better way to pet your dog would be to stroke under his chin, the side of his face of his chest. A good bum scratch will also be greatly appreciated.

Doing circles before lying down

This is a left-over, DNA ingrained, behavior from when dogs were wild. Circling the grass a few times would flatten it and make the space safer and more comfortable.

2. Your dog circles the mat before going to sleep: This is an ethnologic vestige, it’s in the DNA. Dogs in the wild flattened the grass by circling around it a few times before settling down. They were creating a safe and comfortable nest. Today, dogs are acting out a primordial sequence that was genetically encoded many thousands of years ago and passed down from generation to generation.

3. Your dog barks at the mailman no matter how well acquainted the two are: Your pup probably thinks he’s exerting some power by getting the mail carrier to leave. He does leave soon after the dog starts barking, doesn’t he?

4. Your dog grunts: A grunt from a puppy is a communication of pleasure. Sought-after warmth or communion has been attained.

5. Your dog whines: A puppy whines if he is cold, hungry or separated from those he feels he needs to be near for comfort and safety. Put a warm towel over him, feed him or give him some attention, and the whining will probably stop.

6. Dog Blinks: That’s what a dog does when he is thinking hard. If you “Down” to get him to like down and he blinks before doing so, he is thinking, “Do I have to?”

7. Yawns: A dog may yawn if he’s tired, but more generally, it’s an indicator of stress. With yawning, the dog is trying to displace the stress, or inner conflict, with a safe, neutral behavior. Humans do the same thing when they find themselves in a situation of conflict and causes stress – not yawn necessarily, but do some things to cope until the unpleasant situation passes. Let’s say you’re in a hurry and you reach a red light. You want to be there, but you have to be here, both because that’s the safe thing to do and because someone else, the police, will enforce the behavior and causes the stress: staying still until the light turns green. So what do you do? You groom yourself in the rear view mirror, or you look at the driver in the car next to you. Neither of these actions is directly related to what’s pressing on your mind, but engaging in them is better than doing nothing while you’re stuck in the state of conflict between what you want to do and what you must do despite your desires. That’s pretty much the same thing your dog’s yawning when’s not tired.

8. Licks his lips: This is a sign of nervousness, anxiety and submission. People do it, too.

9. Licks you: This is not really a kiss. Rather, it’s a deferent, attention-seeking gesture, similar to what a pup is expressing when he licks his mother’s lips to get her to regurgitate food. Why, then do dogs often lick people in moments of affection? Most likely it’s because they get good feedback for it. However, some dogs lick to establish dominance.

10. Keeps climbing up onto the couch even when you’ve told him “No”. A puppy who tries to get as high or higher up than you might be vying for dominance. But puppies also prefer soft to hard surfaces. Sometimes a cushion is just a cushion.

11. Paws and scrapes the ground after eliminating: A dog that scratches the ground after eliminating is actually engaging in a kind of marking behavior to advertise his presence – the opposite of trying to cover up the “evidence”. By pawing the dirt, he is leaving both a visual cue unearthed soil, and an olfactory one coming from, we can only assume, sweat glands on his paws.

12. Eats feces: Called coprophagia, this behavior is commonly displayed by puppies. It is species-typical behavior. Bitches keep the whelping area clean after they give birth by eating their young’s feces. There is nothing harmful about it to a pup, who will probably outgrow the behavior by the time he’s one year old. But if you find it too objectionable, simply deny access. Always walk the pup on a leash, and pick up after dogs, and other species of animals, who have relieved themselves in your yard. (Some say that adding meat tenderizers or breath fresheners to the dog’s diet helps curb the habit, but it does not work.)

13. Rolls around in disgusting stuff, including muddy messes, feces, and carcasses: Remember, dogs “see” largely through their sense of smell. When they roll around in something and stink to high heaven, they’re not trying to be disgusting. They’re saying “Look what I found, What a day I had in the cow pasture”. It could also be a holdover from the times when dogs ran wild. Rolling in the excrement of another animal or rotting material masks the dog’s own odor, thereby making him less easily detectable by potential predators, or prey that he is staking out.

14. Eats grass: Some people believe dogs eat grass to make themselves throw up when they have stomach upset; that is, the dogs are thought to self-medicate. Some believe dogs simply like to eat grass and then throw up when they eat too much of it. Who’s right? Both. Different dogs have different grass eating patterns. None of them are harmful, so don’t fret if your dog throws up after nibbling on grass.

15. Sniffs around “forever” before urinating: To a human, urination is urination. To a dog, it’s an elimination process and a way of communicating. So a dog has to take in the various olfactory notices left by other dogs before leaving a message of his own. He may even want to make sure that no other pup has previously urinated in the spot he’s considering. An “all clear’ sign takes some time. Be patient.

16. Sniffs another dogs behinds: If smelling were seeing, humans would be considered legally blind by those in the canine world. Dogs would feel more’s the pity for us for not getting anything out of sniffing the behinds of others. Pheromones generated from the glands around a dog’s anus let another dog know the identity of another dog. They’re as crucial to learning about another dog as the pheromones contained in vaginal secretions and urine.

17. Pants: Unlike humans, dogs don’t have sweat glands on most of their skin. There are only a few on their paws and around the anus. Thus they don’t have the mechanism we do for cooling their bodies by losing body heat through the evaporation of sweat. Rather, the way they regulate body temperature when it starts to rise is by panting. The faster a dog pants, the more water-saturated air he is breathing out (evaporating) from his lungs, and that has a cooling effect. That said, dogs don’t pant only when they’re hot. Sometimes they pant when they’re anxious or in pain.

18. Acts happier around dogs of his own breed: It is believed that dogs do not have a sense of self-image and do not even necessarily recognize themselves in a mirror. It may simply be that your pup had a good experience with his siblings, so he seeks out others who look like them. It can work the other way, too. If, say, your pet a Border Collie who has had unfortunate experiences with Cocker Spaniels, he may spend his whole life acting aggressive or fearful about that breed.

19. Nurses on things like blankets or stuffed animals: If a puppy lives with his mother until he is at least six to eight weeks of age, he will probably not suck on various non-living items. That’s because he will have had the opportunity to nurse to his heart’s content as a newborn. It’s those puppies whose biological drive to nurse from their mothers has been denied that end up nursing on things they shouldn’t be nursing on. Some puppy breeds have a greater propensity to nurse on blankets and such and even on themselves than other breeds when denied access to their mothers. Such as Doberman Pinschers and Dachshunds.

20. Runs in his sleep: With that slight paddling of limbs some dogs experience while sleeping, it is believed they are dreaming about precisely what you might think they’re dreaming about , chasing a squirrel or some other creature. Your pup could even be revising some great memory of the previous day, during which he ran a rodent up a tree.

Dog Aggression

Types Of Dog Aggression

Aggression is the main reason dogs get euthanized. Go to any rescue centre, and at least a third of the dogs there are there because they exhibited some type of aggression. A dog’s aggression may have a medical cause so you should visit your vet to rule it out. There are actually about 50 possible medical reasons why your dog is showing aggressive tendencies. Here are the different types of non-medical dog aggression.

Nervous or fearful aggression (Inter-dog)

This type of dog aggression often has its roots with the pup’s mother. Puppies that are breed from a timid bitch will most likely inherit the mother’s timidity and fearfulness. Puppies born to a strong bitch but then placed with a fearful one will pick up the unstable habits of the fearful dog. Another reason for this type of dog aggression is when a puppy or older dog gets attached by another dog. This can be particularly damaging if the dog is on leash and is unable to quickly show submission. When the human comforts the injured or frightened dog following the attack, it only confirms that the fear is real.

Lack of proper socialization between the weeks 7 and 16 can also affect this type of behavior as the puppies do not learn how to meet and greet other dogs. If a puppy doesn’t understand the greeting rituals, then he will be viewed with suspicion by another dog.

Nervous or fearful aggression (Inter-human)

This type of dog aggression is often cause by a lack of handling at an early age. Puppies that are born to puppy farms or large breeders may not get gentle and repetitive handling by humans. Handling puppies at an early age causes stress and teaches them how to cope with various situations later on in life.

Fearful or nervous aggression is always defensive in nature. This can sometimes be directed to only a particular sex, male or female. Puppies that were bred by a male breeder and few females visited and handled the puppies may show timidity towards women.

Frustrated or redirected aggression

Dogs that are not allowed to interact regularly or normally with other dogs and humans are more likely to develop aggressive tendencies. A dog that is restricted from interacting with dogs, people and the outside world will develop a strong desire to access these things.

This frustrated desire can escalate into more serious issues such as escape attempts, agitation and unprovoked attacks. Dogs that are left alone in a garden, tied down or near a window cannot get to the things they see and want to interact with and this may lead to unprovoked aggression based on frustration.

Misdirected aggression

Trying to separate a dog fight can be a dangerous ordeal. Trying to learn how to avoid situation that could result in a dog fight is safer than trying to break a fight. It is common enough to have one or both dogs misdirect their aggression toward the human who is trying to break up the fight. Accidental bites can easily happen in these situations. In the heat of the battle, dogs often do not recognize their owner and may bite by mistake.


Sexual aggression


This type of dog aggression almost always occurs in male dogs. In this case, the dog will mount humans and dogs alike. Mounting of human may reflect an over-attachment to people or a lack of interaction with other dogs. Mounting other dogs reflects a dominance complex.


Dominant aggression


Dogs usually approach each other quite cautiously and give out many status signals such as tail held high, moving from side to side, standing on tip toes, etc. One of the two dogs usually submits but if this is not the case, a fight may occur. In this case, the a dog with dominant aggression may also display aggression towards members of his own family.


Territorial aggression


In theory, territorial aggression should only be directed towards members of the species, but it can sometimes be directed towards humans. The main motivations behind territorial behavior are dominance and fear or anxiety. Some breeds do get frustrated faster than others, such as Collies, Springer Cockers and Retrievers. This type of dog aggression can be addressed through behavior modification and using positive reinforcement techniques. Do not reward your dog for stopping a bad behavior, rather praise for the inappropriate behavior not happening at all.


Predatory aggression


In this type of aggression, movement is the trigger. Dogs will chase cats, squirrels, bikes and even cars. This type of aggression can be seen in dogs of any sex and age. These dogs should be monitored closely to avoid any accidents with children, other dogs or passing cars.

Dog Behavior Problems

Cozying up next to the fire with your best friend lying at your feet, play fetch or having a companion that loves you unconditionally. These are the images most people think of when they decide to get a dog. But the reality can be much different. Chewing your most expensive shoes or furniture, barking incessantly, or even biting and aggressive behavior.

It is important to remember that dogs are animals with natural instincts and behaviors. However we tend to humanize them and this can lead to unwanted dog behavior problems. Some problems can be relatively minor such as chewing, peeing, barking or chasing but left alone these behaviors can turn into destructive and even dangerous activities.

Many dog behavior problems have their root causes in frustration. Dogs are social pack animals and their nature is to travel, explorer, hunt and scavenge with their pack. When they are not able to do this, such as when they are left at home alone, they get a build-up of pent-up energy. If they do not release this energy through structured exercise they can become frustrated and this frustration is released through these destructive behaviors.

Training and exercise is the key to solving most dog behavior problems and will have the added benefit of having a balanced, calm dog and creating a stronger bond between you and your pooch. For example, for dogs that are chewers you should provide them with lots of toys that you can direct their energy towards. If your dog pees on the rug when it gets excited you may want to make sure it is getting enough exercise so that you drain it of excess energy.

If your dog is showing aggression then you should seek the help of a professional trainer that has experience dealing with aggressive dogs. Aggression can escalate very quickly and a professional dog trainer will guide you through the steps necessary to unsure that you and your dog are safe. Nintey-nine percent of the time dog aggression can be fixed and many dogs are put down needlessly. You may need to work with a couple of different trainers before you find the best one for you and your dog.

Never give up and take the time to train, exercise and discipline them. You will be helping to create a balanced and happy animal as well as a long and fulfilling relationship with them.