Spoiler Alert: Your Dog is Not a Human!
Written by trainer Emily Pennington
Learn to Love Your Dog the Way THEY Want to Be Loved
Growing up, you probably heard the message of the Golden Rule at least a thousand times.
Treat others the way you want to be treated.
When addressing conflict with children, it's normal to ask questions like “would you like it if I did that to you?” or “is that how you would want to be treated?”
These questions usually caused me to empathize with my friends. Imagine how I would feel if I was in their position.
This is a great rule of thumb for navigating our friendships.
However, we start to bump heads when we start to see that my preference might be different than another’s.
Consider the Five Love Languages described by Gary Chapman: words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch and gifts.
We each have a different way of feeling loved. Some people really value quality time, while another thrives of encouragement and words of affirmation.
To fully love and appreciate my friends, I want to love them how THEY would like to be loved.
You’re probably thinking, what the heck do love languages have to do with my dog.
As people, it is very tempting to love our dog how we want to be loved.
But our dogs are not human!
The greatest tool to a flourishing relationship with your dog is to love them how they want to be loved.
To love our dog better, is to understand them better.
The Gap Between Species:
As humans, we tend to interpret the world through our lived experience.
This leads us to personify things in our lives. The concept of personification refers to our tendency to apply human characteristics to things that aren’t human.
Our relationship with our dog is a great example of this.
It might seem obvious to you that our dogs are not human. Despite this, we still tend to give dogs human characteristics.
We assume our dog knows English when we tell them to stop chewing on the couch, or when we beg them to stop barking at everyone walking by.
We put clothes and costumes on our dogs, we even give them fancy haircuts.
We refer to our dogs as our babies, we tell them how much we love them, we would kill for our pups.
These things aren’t bad. In fact, it’s really cool to see that we care about our dogs enough to elevate them to a human status.
However, this lacks one fundamental thing.
Our dogs are NOT humans!
Our dogs descended from wolves. They have been domesticated and bred for tasks over thousands of years.
Although they are domesticated, they are still animals, nonetheless.
Dogs grew up on completely different evolutionary tracks than humans did.
Therefore, their way of interacting with the world is very different than ours.
This applies to all dogs out there.
From the precious little mini poodles that get carried around in purses, to the breeds that are mislabeled as dangerous.
Every dog descended from wolves; every dog has a manual hardwired into their DNA.
Compared to humans, our dogs have a very different family dynamic.
They also communicate with each other much different than we do.
Our family structure is different than our dogs.
Humans exist in families; dogs have packs.
In the human realm, newborns rely on their parents for their every need. They need them for shelter, food and love. Without these things, their rate of survival drops significantly.
As they grow, they become less and less dependent on their parents and they become more independent.
Their sense of independence grows as they grow, till they no longer need their parents to meet their basic needs.
Then they venture on and find a partner, they have kids of their own, the cycle continues.
Our dogs are part of the family, right?
As humans, bringing a dog home feels very similar to having a child of our own.
How often have you referred to your dog as your child, or your baby?
When we bring a dog into the home, our temptation to personify them is very high. Not only are we viewing them as humans, but we take it a step further by viewing them as our children.
Maternal and Paternal Instinct is a force to be reckoned with.
It’s only natural for us to parent our dogs as if they were human.
When we think of our dog as children, subconsciously or willingly, we fail to recognize their family looks nothing like ours.
Here we are again, loving for our dogs as we would want to be loved.
Begin to see things through the eyes and mind of the pack
Wolves are PACK animals and therefore our dogs are PACK animals.
Within the pack, there is one clear leader. This leader is referred to as Alpha.
Alpha leads the pack by setting clear and firm boundaries.
Everything Alpha does is for the safety and survival of the pack.
This might sound similar to a parental figure, however there is one key difference.
Dogs continually rely on their alpha through the course of their lifetime.
A puppy may require more supervision than an adult member of the pack, but each of them rely on alpha for safety and security.
When dogs don’t have the security of alpha, it is instinctual for them to fill the role themselves.
Say a tragedy happens, alpha is taken out or removed from the pack. Another member of the pack will step up into place for the sake of the pack.
As humans, we probably have zero experience living in a pack with other dogs unless we were raised by wolves.
This isn’t our fault, but our dog desperately needs the security alpha provides.
When we struggle to step into this leadership position, our dog instinctually fills this gap.
The roles become reversed.
Our dog is interested in maintaining the safety and survival of our family rather than resting in our leadership.
Almost all those mildly annoying behaviors arise from our dogs’ desire to fill this alpha role.
Leash reactivity is a great example of this.
When you go for walks, is it common for your dogs to just ignore everything they go past? Probably not.
There might be some barking, lunging, or your dog might try to run away from anything scary. All these behaviors are attempts to protect the pack.
Rather than looking to you for direction and trusting you, your dog makes the call.
How do we bridge the gap?
We need to learn how to speak "dog".
In the human realm, most communication is verbal.
As humans, we can use our words to express ourselves. Our words can build relationships or tear them down within the span of a minute. How we speak and the words we use carry immense weight.
We can use our words to describe a time we felt hurt. We can resolve conflict and recall past events with our words. We ask questions to get to know our friends better, all of this is verbal and full of complex emotions.
Has your dog ever asked you how your day was? I’d be quite concerned if they did.
Our dogs don’t rely on verbal communication because they are physical communicators.
Within the pack, most communication is physical.
Dogs will express themselves with their bodies.
In play, dogs reveal their intentions through their posture. In affection, dogs will lick each other and snuggle. All of this is done physically.
From birth, dogs communicate with each other physically.
Picture this, mama dog carries her puppies by the scruff to a safe location.
Mama dog interrupts and corrects her puppy’s behaviors with her body.
Mama dog ensures this role of alpha quite beautifully, its our job to pick up where mama dog left off.
Your relationship with your dog depends on it!
Have you ever tried to explain to someone that you didn’t like something they did, and it felt like they weren’t really hearing you?
Or maybe they did, but they continue to do the very thing you asked them not to.
You find yourself having to repeat yourself. This is beyond frustrating.
Over time, you learn to accept these behaviors, or you let go of the relationship.
Let’s compare this model with our dogs unwanted behaviors.
How many times have you had to tell your dog to stop jumping on your guests, or not to bark at the doorbell?
Its possible you may have tried many ways to get through to your dog, and you still find that your dog isn’t really hearing you.
Maybe they do in the moment, but you know they will go right back to it given the opportunity.
This break down in communication can be attributed to one main issue, we fail to set boundaries with our dog in a way they would understand.
We do our best to change things but eventually enough is enough and we are left with two choices; we expect our dog to misbehave, or we choose to surrender them.
The greatest reason dogs end up in shelters is due to behavioral issues.
These behavioral issues can range in severity, but there is no dog that is too far gone.
No one should feel the need to surrender their dog when their behavior can easily be fixed.
Your ideal training solution
Here at Sam Ivy, we are in the dog saving business. No pup is left behind.
We know your dogs are precious to you and we want them to remain in your home with as much peace as possible.
If you feel that you are at the end of your rope with your dog, I urge you to consider Sam Ivy K9 Consultants as your ideal training solution.
Maybe you’ve tried everything out there and nothing has really helped, you’ve searched every corner of the internet looking for answers. Maybe your friends think they have the best advice for you but still, nothing helps.
I know this can be frustrating and emotionally exhausting, we have all been there.
As trainers, our goal is to educate you on how to properly love and lead your dog.
Book your free consultation today and let one of our dog behavioral experts show you how to become the loving leader your dog so desperately needs.
Book Your Free Consultation Today to Start Building a Happier & Healthier Relationship With Your Dog
I am so happy with Sam Ivy K9 Consultants and our trainer Maribel. I enrolled in the virtual proper pack course and I wished I would have done this so much sooner!
I loved the flexibility of the zoom classes. You have to be willing to put in the work, but my dog seems so much happier with structure in his life. Thank you Samy Ivy!