As mentioned in my previous blog, we tend to expect dogs to think like us. Dogs, like most animals, have a completely different relation to time than we do. DOGS LIVE IN THE MOMENT. I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand this. We should also learn from this, and worry less about the future and not dwell on things from the past. Ultimately, the moment is the only reality there is. Dogs don’t worry about the future or think about it. They don’t regret the past or think about it. They are certainly conditioned by experiences they had in the past. For example, if a dog has been hit with a stick. The dog will fear any stick in the hand of a human thereafter, but when there is no stick around he won’t think of it. An abused person may constantly think about experiences, where an animal certainly does not.
When we start to understand that dogs only perceive the present moment, we will approach our dogs differently in situations where correcting behaviour is required. Your dog learns only in this present moment through cause and effect. This means that when your dog tears the garbage bag apart and you don’t notice it until later, the dog learned in this moment that this worked and they may repeat the act. There is no use correcting your dog if you didn’t catch them in the act. If, on the other hand, you catch the dog in the moment and correct him with a firm “NO”( never scream, just firm voice), the dog will experience an immediate effect to their actions, and will learn that it is not acceptable.
That is how a dog learns, by cause and effect, in the present moment. Please remember that no dog willingly miss-behaves. The dog would tear the garbage apart only because it contains something that smells great. Make sure to put the garbage in a place where the dog can’t reach it. Set up your house and yard so your dog won’t fail (“fail” in human perspective).
We have to be aware that we cannot project our own emotions onto the dog. In our previous example, your dog will not “regret” that they tore the garbage apart, or a beaten dog will not seek “revenge”. Even the word “jealousy” is debatable. We all love our Disney movies, but the way the animals are characterized is not reality.
Here two more examples:
Example 1: The Thief
A dog steals a piece of meat from the counter; the owner doesn’t realize it right away until the dog lies down on its bed. If the dog gets punished after it lies down on the bed, even verbally, they will think the human is unhappy with them lying down, which is confusing for the dog. A dog must be caught in the act of taking the meet in order to understand that this is not acceptable. Again, all it takes is a firm “NO”. What human’s perceive as stealing food, the dog perceives as normal behaviour. To take whatever food becomes available is normal survival behaviour for any animal. Same as with the garbage example, make sure to set things up so your dog succeeds. Always make sure your dog can’t reach your food and teach your family to do the same.
Example 2: Come Here So I can Punish You
Often people punish their dog for responding slowly or not at all when called. To the dog this means that he is being scolded for responding and coming to the owner. Every time your dog comes to you they need to be praised, regardless of whether they are slow or late. To the dog, only that present moment they reach you counts. Call your dog once (and only once), and when they come, no matter when they reach you, praise or reward them. This may be against our nature since we are able to reason with a human, for instance a child, and use consequences. The human child would understand why the correction/ consequence happened. This is not the case in a dog’s mind. Coming to you is always wanted behaviour and needs to be positively rewarded, which is easiest done with a friendly voice such as “good boy”. Coming to you must be the best experience for your dog. I will talk more about this in another post called “Recall”.
A word about punishments
Punishing or correcting a dog is a state of mind. If your intention is to correct your dog, they will accept it or learn to accept it as such. But if your intention is to punish the dog, it will more likely have a traumatic impact. So always stay calm and correct with calmness, which is crucial to being successful in the relationship with your dog.
No dog should ever be punished by physical abuse, confinement, or being chained up. They do not make the connection as to why they are locked or chained. Hitting a dog is cruel and unacceptable and can trigger fear and aggression. With loud, aggressive shouting, all you are accomplishing is a display of weakness and insecurity. If, for example, two dogs are growling at each other and you shout at them aggressively, you might encourage a fight, because you may fuel the aggression.
To live in the moment is a dog’s natural state of being. Spending time with them can definitely make our lives more positive. Think how entirely present they are. They can bring us to that state as well. I think one of the most beautiful things about a dogs nature is that they can look at you without judgement, offering total acceptance. Yes, we can learn a lot from our fantastic furry companions.