Dogs are not people. It may seem like an obvious observation, but so many people make the mistake time and time again of expecting their dog to act and think like a person. They attribute human traits and emotions to these noble animals and thus undermine their whole relationship, sending confusing signals and stressing the dog.
Remember, the dog is an animal. Yes, even your cute little friend who curls up on the sofa next to you and loves to have his tummy tickled. He’s an animal, and he MUST be treated as such to give him a healthy, fulfilling life. Small dogs are particularly prone to being treated as children or babies and this can lead to a multitude of behavioural problems, not to mention confusion and misery for the dog.
Firstly, let’s look at the exchange of love between ourselves and our dogs. Most of us love our dogs and can feel a warm spot in the middle of our chests when we see them or think of them. Does the dog feel that too? We have to assume not. He loves us, but he loves us in a different way. He relies on us for his well-being and survival. He looks to us (if we are successful) as a leader of his pack and he trusts us in our decisions.
He is happy to be with you because he is a pack animal and his attachment to you may well be very deep. But he doesn’t have the complicated love-psychology of a human being. He doesn’t have the same concept of ethics and morality and he certainly doesn’t know anything above and beyond what his animal instincts tell him. If a friend of yours enters the house and your dog doesn’t like him, he’s not going to “be nice” to the friend for your sake! Conversely, he doesn’t misbehave or sulk to get attention or “pay you back” for something you did. These are human emotions and motives that we attribute to our dogs almost unconsciously.
We should also look at the concept of praise and punishment in training. On the whole, I advocate praising good behaviour and ignoring misbehaviour. I do not believe in punishing a dog for bad behaviour, but sometimes a short, sharp shout can be a good reminder to a dog that is doing something he knows he shouldn’t. It is essential to remember that you can only praise or give correction to your dog AT THE VERY MOMENT he is exhibiting the behaviour in question. He is not a child and will not know nor remember what he did five minutes ago. This is a fundamental difference between people and dogs and if remembered, will make training a much easier task.
So the key to this is “think like a dog”. Imagine you are a pack animal like him. Don’t ever think of him as a human, still less a child or a baby, whatever his size and however cute his face. You have to hard-wire this concept into your relationship with your dog and he will only thank you for it. He is a dog, an animal, and only by truly understanding this will you be able to fulfill his needs and form a meaningful, satisfying relationship for both of you.