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Understanding the way dogs think to help us train our dogs Continued

Last time I was explaining the way dogs think using sense and reactions combined with trail and error problem solving. This method has not changed from the time man first started domesticating the wolf and turning it into the types of dogs we know today.

Scientists believe man first domesticated our dogs from the smaller European wolf. Dogs still have the same reactions, as did their early predecessors even though they have adapted to our current environment and our society. This they must do in order to survive but they are still reacting to modern stimuli the same way, as would a wolf from 13000 years ago.

One question that frequently reoccurs is when I say that to dogs’ size does not matter to them or any other dog. A wolf never needs the use of a measuring gauge so to wolves they were all the same size. Even though man has increased the size and range of dogs, as far as they are concerned, all wolves or dogs are still the same size. Only body language, speed, agility, and the depth of growl appear to play any part in forcing dogs to back down in a sign of submission. You may remember I had the small dog Oley at my home and yet he was able to make two much bigger dogs, Ropi and Winston, show submission and even chased them out of my house.

Man has designed dogs into all the breeds that we see today but though we have changed their appearance to cater for the differing tasks that we wish them to do, they retain the same wolf method of thinking. They still have the same survival reactions that they always had and some are so deeply imprinted it is sometimes difficult to see how we can alter them.

Once common problem is dogs pursuing cats or anything else that runs away from them and this is just the chase game. Most dogs only see this as a game they played with their siblings but if food is an interest with some dogs this can generated into hunting and even to killing the pray. On the other hand, anything coming towards a dog it will instinctively run away from it in fear. This is because of its instinctive survival rules.

I mentioned on the radio a few weeks ago that one of the old fashioned methods to stop dogs chasing and killing chickens and rabbits were to tie the dead creature to the dog’s neck using a bit of string. (Bit gruesome to say the least) The reason this worked was that as the dog runs away it thinks the animal is chasing it even though it is dead. Dogs do not understand the principal of the use of string. I would never advocate this method to anyone but it shows how dogs think. In such cases as this, I much prefer to use socialisation techniques where you train the dog to leave such animals alone.

Watch most dogs that chase cats, but then when the cat turns it ends up chasing the dog. Some cats are very quick and I know of quite few dogs that have had their eyes badly scratched even to loosing their sight by and angry cat. Because dogs do not like anything coming towards them, they usually back off and especially if it is hissing. This brings us back to our use of compressed air.

Some owners have asked why is it that their dog does not chase their cats but chases everyone else’s and why some dogs have become cat killers. This is simply the owners have made an effort to teach their dogs not to chase their cats. The dog sees them in the house sleeping, wandering around, and eating. The owners may have even sounded angry if the dog even looks sideways at their cats. The problem is they have not done the same with other cats outside of their house. Once they see the other cats and if they run the dog will chase. At first, it may be in fun but it can degenerate into a far greater problem.

Where does this start? I had one owner who was so annoyed at stray cats entering his garden he would chase them off and their puppy thought this was great fun as well as reawakening old genetic habits. As a puppy, chasing a cat that could easily out run the dog does look funny at first and no harm done but as the dog grew it became impossible to stop it chasing any cat that came into the area.

I had another owner who was very upset at having to give her dog away because it was killing the local feral cats but when it killed the neighbour’s cat, this was the last straw. It simply had liked to chase them, instinct eventually took over, and it learned how to attack them.

To correct this problem you do not have to teach your dog to socialise with every cat in the vicinity. It is sufficient to socialise them with just a few. The important thing is that owners have a good degree of influence over their dogs with a good recall so that if a dog looks as if it is going to chase a cat you can call it off and to come to you instead for a reward.

If you wish to try this, train your dog on the lead so it can see the cat but cannot reach it. Chose a cat that is one that does not usually show any fear of dogs then its hiss and threat of a paw towards the dog will usually do the trick. Using compressed air produces the same result but only so long as you do not directed the fast moving air towards the cat. Most cats do not bother about the hiss from the can as hissing is their usual defence sound.

You may have read about the dog that can pick out 50 odd differing toys by name. This is not difficult to teach because the dog does not recognise the dinosaur to the polar bear by sight or shape but because each toy has its own individual scent signature. With a little patience and plenty of praise, you could do the same. Years ago we thought how dogs can recognise our car keys with our scent on them inside a house full of our scent. Now we know how dogs do this.

The other day I was in the Javea dog Shelter and asked if I could retrain a dog that all it liked was playing with a ball. Some thought this would be a hindrance to training the dog. This is fact brilliant because a dog that loves a certain toy will do anything if it gets that toy as a reward. Taking the ball off the dog and putting into your pocket, the owner would have that dog following them like the Pied Piper.

Anyone who would like a lovely big dog that will be so easy to train please go and have a look. If you are not certain how to utilise this gift of a dog already in love with a toy you just have to give me a call. This dog just wants to learn and play.

For my dogs, before I could start training the first thing I had to do was to make my dogs interested in a toy. My favourite was usually a ball on a rope and it took me a few weeks to get the dog to the point where he would do anything just to get the ball. Having a dog that is already in love with toys would be heaven sent.

One difficulty we have is that we have a tendency to try to humanise our dogs and we begin to believe our dogs think like us. They do not. I do talk to Winston but this is only thinking out loud and do not expect him to respond to the words but he enjoys the tone and takes it as showing him attention.

We who were brought up on Lassie films where careful editing and using 7 or 9 dogs that could do a host of tricks would appear to portray the power of human though processes. All this is really the director wanting Lassie to show such human traits he uses a dog that could complete some trick that mimics what a human would do in a similar situation.

I now watch these films simply to see if I can recognise the different dogs and wonder what commands they are actually using in any of the scenes where Lassie performs. Sad really but I think it is like looking at a magician and wondering how he accomplishes his illusions. The problem is once you know how it is accomplished it no longer has the same appeal anymore.

To train our dogs to work with us we need non-enforcement types of training. We need our dog willing to work with us in order to obtain some reward. This can be titbits, lots of praise or even just to play with a special toy.

I know the word no is sometimes difficult not to use but after you have used it try to think could you have used some other command that is an alternative rather than a dead stop.

One word I have used here is work and this is not correct. Dogs do not work for us; they play. Everything we ask them to do they like to treat as a game. From detaining criminals, fetching sticks or even pulling a sledge. Dogs love to play and if you can read your dog and have the incentive right for your dog, you can channel its play into actions, you wish your dog to perform, and then you are on a winner. When you reach this point this is when dog training becomes fun and rewarding.

In the next article I will give you two in depth situations that do show the simple way dogs think yet both looks as if the dogs are showing the ability to calculate and yet each situation would without knowing the simply thinking steps involved they would appear to actually contradict each other.


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