Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Dogs Do What They Do

Dog are born with the ability to "see it, try it and if you like it, remember it and do it again". Similarly, if they try it and don't like it, they will go off and try something else. Dogs are great experimenters. When you are able to interact with this pattern of behavior, you are on your way to teaching your dog what is correct behavior and what is not. You start teaching your dog how to live in your world from the moment you pick him out at the breeder, rescue or pound.  If you use a dog's natural instincts to test everything and look for the necessities and other good things in life, the dog you adopt as an adult or a puppy will turn out to be the dog you want.

Dogs have an extraordinary ability to adapt to the lifestyles and circumstances they are put in. All dogs think whatever they do is ok.  If they didn't, they wouldn't act the way they do because it would get them nothing. A dog's behavior must satisfy a need, no dog will do anything that isn't to their advantage. Dogs do not distinguish right from wrong - they only learn what behaviors will get them what they desire. In order to learn how to live in our world without stress and strife, you - as a primate - must learn to think like a canine. Like children, dogs don't come with a set of instructions.
Dogs are never perfect - they are only doing what evolution and survival have taught them. Blaming a dog for her poor behavior won't change that behavior. Dogs simply need guidance and structure from us in order to live in our world. It is rarely the dog that is at fault here, it' is generally the human on the other end of the leash. The human is responsible for his dog chasing rabbits, chewing the carpet and attacking the mail man.

In my experience, no matter how severe a dog's behavioral problems are, 90% of the time, the problems are man-made. We are the ones who are guilty because we - and those who may have lived with our dog before us - are instrumental in forming his inner world and how he relates to our world. Consciously or not, we are constantly teaching our dogs - and our children - what to do and what not to do.

Many of us either ignore or smile at and even reinforce our dogs' behavior - good or bad. Because of a dogs inherent need to discover the behavior that will fullfill their needs, they have an uncanny ability to outmaneuver us and get what they want despite our efforts to "stop" them. Dogs win and they remember and learn from it. They get used to winning - regardless of whether it matches our expectations. Without our direction, they get used to not having to behave in any particular way.  Without our guidance, a dog will learn on it's own what is rewarding and how to fullfill her needs. The more often a dog wins, the more convinced she becomes that what she is doing is proper.

Not much different then humans really. If something words, we stick with it. If it doesn't work, we abandon it. If it is rewarding, feels good, makes us feel useful or loved or whatever reward we need for our own ego, we use it. But there are always the rules of society that govern most of what we do when we are interacting with each other. In the same way, our rules govern how are dogs should interact in our world.

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