Dog on the Couch

DEAR Susan, I can’t get my human to understand that my behaviour is perfectly natural. Please help. Thank you.

Stop that

To help them gain a better understanding of their dogs, I always ask the people who come to me for training or problem-solving to try to see disagreeable behaviour from their dog’s perspective.

It often turns out that this is not the simple matter it may seem, and this should make us all the more sympathetic to the dog’s dilemma when he is expected to immediately understand and abide by all the rules of a particular human household.

Although we have a very long history of co-habitation with dogs, we should at least acknowledge and respect that the dog is a different species which retains instincts, rules and manners of its own, all of which hold some meaning or purpose.

Within reason, just as we humans are obliged to abide by certain rules in order for our society to function smoothly, so the dog, within reason, is expected to exercise certain manners in order to co-exist with the least friction in a human household and, important to consider, in a neighbourhood.

In most instances this will obviously mean modifying his natural ways to varying degrees. We shouldn’t underestimate what we are asking of the dog, and nor should we lose sight of the dog’s need to be a dog and do dog things – within reason.

It would of course be unreasonable and cruel to expect our dogs to morph into minions and forego all of their natural pleasures.

Natural they may be, but the following are some canine behaviours that may be found unacceptable.

If you are experiencing some of these following problems, please consult a force-free trainer or behaviourist at the very earliest manifestation of the trouble.

Digging up the garden and burying things, taking objects belonging to close family members, chasing cats or wildlife, including birds, being aggressively possessive of valued resources, barking to attract attention when feeling lonely or for other unacceptable reasons, being aggressively jealous of new additions to the family, licking the faces and hands of humans (a submissive or affectionate gesture), sniffing crotches, jumping up to greet humans in an attempt to get close to the face.

Eating faeces of other species, commonly of birds, cats, horses, monkeys, diving into and rolling in rotting carcases or excrement, urinating on objects when introduced to a new home or in a familiar home after a stranger has visited.

It’s important to understand what one is doing when altering natural behaviours, to recognise that the behaviours are not without meaning or purpose in the dog’s world, and not to expect the dog to have an intellectual understanding of our rules.

We need to teach the dog sympathetically and thoroughly, and for this it’s important to know which behaviours are not bad.

For example, as long as they don’t overstep the bounds, dogs have a right to tell other animals off if they misbehave.

It’s also well to remember that some of the bad dog habits we may find acceptable and allow will be regarded as unacceptably bad manners when inflicted on other humans.

To some, having a dog jumping up, scratching their skin, soiling and damaging clothes and gobbing all over them may be a pleasant welcome by man’s best friend. Others do not find this welcoming. That’s one reason why a behaviourist’s work is never simple and never over, and it underlines the importance of teaching and inculcating general good manners. -

Susan Henderson© (accredited animal behaviourist)

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