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Understanding Dogs

By DJ Hensch-Dahl (copyright 1998)


Over the years I have found that the number one reason people and dogs don't succeed in living together is lack of skills to communicate with each other. Dogs do not come pre-programmed to understand our language and obedience commands. They have to be taught just like people. Parents teach their children the skills they will need to survive in the world. Dogs teach their offspring survival techniques. We are not so dissimilar.


One of the reasons dogs make great companions to people is the fact that they share similar lifestyles. Dogs need a den, we need a home, dogs live in packs, we live in family groups, dogs raise their pups, we raise our children, dogs need leaders (alpha male and female), we need a leader (a president). We can relate to dogs because we share similar values. Dogs are able to come into our homes and adjust to becoming members of our family. The problems erupt when we forget that they ARE dogs and try to turn them into four-legged humans with human emotions and needs.


I can't tell you how many phone calls I receive in a week that has to do with very simple basic common sense being ignored and thus people complaining of bad behavior in their dogs. Many common sense rules apply to raising the dog properly so the end product is what the owner is looking for in a dog. Yet people seem to think the new 8 week old pup should KNOW not to potty in the house or chew things that aren't his. Please tell me HOW??


A very basic behavior in all puppies and dogs is the need to chew. The mouth serves as a means of exploration, vocalization and survival. Chewing is a great stress release for dogs. Providing the dog with appropriate items to chew prevents the dog from chewing inappropriate items ONLY if you are there to reinforce everything. All you need to do as a responsible dog owner is "puppy - proof" your house (very similar to child proofing for crawling babies) and supply safe things for your pup to chew on. Then confine the pup whenever you are unable to keep an eye on him/her.


When a puppy is left unattended it is likely going to get into mischief. So why leave a puppy alone? We have cribs and playpens for human infants that are considered as "safe places" for babies not as punishment. Then why do dog owners feel a crate is punishment? A dog's crate is its den. The real punishment here is allowing the pup to roam freely and possibly getting injured or worse. If the puppy is confined when the owner is not able to watch its activities the puppy can not get into trouble or be injured.


If you wish to housebreak your puppy you must teach it what to do. This begins with having a collar and leash on the puppy when you take him outside. To take a puppy outside without a collar and leash sets the stage for many future problems.

For example:

How are you going to teach the puppy where you wish it to eliminate itself?

How will you be able to praise for a job well done if your aren't there to see it being done?

How will you teach the puppy to stay close to you?

How will you ever handle a medical problem that requires you to get a "catch" of urine if the puppy is allowed to run off alone to potty?

How are you going to leash train your puppy if the puppy has been taught that going outside to potty does not require a leash so the puppy fights the leash as a result?


Do you see what I mean? You must be an active participant with the house training of your pup or dog. You must think ahead to the future when training your puppy or dog. You must prepare your dog for the unexpected and teach your dog basic obedience.


Another situation I have come across quite a lot is the old, "He knows he did something wrong so why does he keep chewing the couch cushions?" WRONG!! Dogs do not "know" they did something wrong when a person walks into the house from work and finds that the dog got into mischief. Dogs only know to respond to our signals. If your dog chews up the couch cushions while you are away and then slinks off with his head hanging down when you come home it is because your body language upon entering the house has triggered the dog's response. You come in "expecting" to find something amiss and when you do you react. The dog learns to expect this behavior by the manner in which you enter the house. Now if you should happen to enter the house with a very upbeat happy attitude regardless of what you may find you will most likely note a dog wagging his tail in response to your attitude as you both stand in view of the chewed couch cushions. The discovery of the destruction can trigger a person to get angry and it is this change in attitude that sets the stage for future entrances resulting in the slinking dog.



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