The Human’s Perspective
Cognitive Ability & Value of Dogs
In his 2011 best-seller Dog Sense, John Bradshaw described four specific facets about dogs that trainers and dog experts vehemently disagree. In summary, these facets are: (1) natural social groupings of dogs, (2) ethical and philosophical issues pertaining to physical corrections, (3) cognitive/thinking ability of dogs, and (4) value of dogs. Before we address the controversial second facet, we will evaluate the other three with respect to the Human’s Perspective of dog training.
The training from the Human’s Perspective aligns with the idea that dogs naturally form family groups rather than dominance hierarchies or social packs, a fundamental assumption of the Wolf’s Perspective. Dogs as family members make perfect sense. However, this ideology taken to an extreme can cause problems for our dog companions. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are not 4-legged humans in fur coats. This “anthropomorphic view” can be extremely detrimental to our loveable canine companions and our relationship with them.
Anthropomorphism, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is the “attribution of human motivation, characteristics or behaviors to inanimate objects, animals or natural phenomena”. Thus, anthropomorphism describes how humans treat their dog companions as little, 4-legged humans rather than dogs, which hinders their ability to communicate with their dogs. Dogs do not behave or perceive the world the same way as humans, no matter how much we want to think differently. We humans need to understand and love our dogs and accept them as dogs, not little people. Once we accept them as dogs, we can really enjoy them as dogs.
What the Dog’s Nose Knows
Anthropomorphic views of dogs influence our understanding of dog’s cognitive or thinking capacity. Although understanding how dogs think is difficult for humans, it is clear dogs and humans perceive the world very differently. For example, vision is of primary importance for humans. Humans always look first. In contrast, vision is not the primary sense for dogs. Dogs “see” with their noses and follow scents or pheromones that people and all types of creatures emit. Dogs use these scents to make determinations about their environment. Dogs can figure out our moods by our body scents and body language. Humans will give off different scents (detectable only to dogs), depending on moods. Dogs can smell if we are happy or sad. They can detect cancer in human bodies and bombs in suitcases. A dog’s nose is the dog’s most important sense organ for understanding the world around them. Dogs can smell happiness, anger, fear and frustration. Humans need to be friendly and kind to dogs at all times to maintain trust and motivation. Their delicate noses should be off-limits for any corrections. Controlling anyone’s head, not just dogs, is very assertive and should be limited in use, if at all.
Physical Corrections ~ Ethical & Philosophical Issues
We now come to the most contentious of dog training topics, the use of physical “punishment”, which is both alarming and misleading. It is alarming that some believe that punishment is necessary in dog training. This could not be farther from the truth! There is no place for punishment in dog training, companionship or ownership. The confusion between corrections and punishment is misleading, as previously discussed in Corrections versus Punishment. Training dogs and teaching students are very similar because of the need for: (1) appropriate communication between teacher and student/dog, and (2) positive corrections and positive encouragement to guide them. Learning happens when students, including dogs, are able to learn from mistakes. The primary role of a trainer and teacher is to provide guidance and make learning fun!
“Positive” Training Devices
The Human’s Perspective advocates using specific collars, head halters and harnesses for training. Regular buckle and martingale collars are the allowed training collars; whereas, chokers, pinch/prong collars and e-collars are not allowed. The head halter is typically the “gentle leader”. In contrast, selection of harnesses is vast and ranges from standard tracking harness to a variety of so-called “no-pull” harnesses. An internet image search using the keywords “dog harness types” shows the wide variety of dog harnesses now available. Please see Training Gear for discussion of the pros and cons of various training devices.
Constructive Training Techniques
There are several aspects of Positive Position that need incorporating in any training methods. First, when training a dog, you must have a positive attitude and temperament, which will affect your dogs’ attitude and temperament. Any negative emotions, actions or words are deleterious when interacting with dogs. Physical, verbal or emotional punishment should never be part of any training practice. In contrast, physical and verbal praise are the best motivational incentives in dog training. Although food rewards are useful, they should not be used routinely or too much. Limit using food lures for special times, like training with distractions. Food can become a distraction, especially when the smell of food becomes overwhelming and literally takes over their minds.
Bradshaw, J. 2011. Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. New York: Basic Books. 324 pp.
Coming up next – Training from The Dog’s Perspective