Updated January 3, 2021
July 19, 2018
I had an interesting question yesterday: "Why do dogs have a hierarchy?"
Dogs, like humans, come from living in a communal and (theoretically) cooperative society. They must rely on each other for food, protection, child care, warmth, etc. In any community, there must be some type of order and some type of leadership. Even in a "democracy," we elect leaders (who may not always do what is best for the rest of the pack). If you think about it, not only do we have a hierachy structure, but we signal in many of the same ways as dogs. Lead dog is always first or above. Who lives in the penthouse? Who gets "first cut" of the money in the world? Why do people bow to royalty? Who sits in the front seat of the car? The big differences are that dogs determine and enforce hierarchy through respect (and very rarely fighting). We, particularly in Western Society, determine our hierarchy through money, popularity and might, and not necessarily respect and ability to lead.
Then, we take dogs out of their instinctive hierarchy, isolate them from their own kind, and often force them into leadership roles. We also selectively breed them for specific jobs or personalities, which does not occur in nature. Then we do not let them do those jobs and expect them to perform actions that we never gave them the skills (through breeding) to do. We wonder why dogs have "behavioral problems?"
July 23, 2018
I was reminded the other day of why I do this work. I walked into a doctor's office. The receptionist recognized me. I had worked with her and her dog about six years ago. When we started, the dog was terrified of strangers. She would bark and run. As soon as you turned your back, the dog would nip at your leg or foot and then run away again. After several weeks, the dog was able to attend socialization class. She continued to improve to the point that her "mom" felt comfortable having friends over. When I spoke with "mom" the other day, I learned that the dog goes everywhere with her — to outdoor concerts, restaurants, even dog parks! She absolutely loves people, even strangers. This dog is why we keep working! To change a dog terrified of the world to a social butterfly?! Oh yeah!! Now that is a high that no drugs could ever offer. Makes you want to help dogs for a living. Oh yeah ... that is what I do. I love my job!
July 30, 2018
Anthropromorphism is a word that describes when humans place human emotions, values and expectations on animals, or other life forms. Many trainers, behavior specialists and veterinarians will say anthropromorhism is a bad thing. I disagree! Dogs and cats are not humans. They have their own perceptions, feelings and social structures. That said, we as humans often place unrealistic expectations on the animals we live with. A little, "put yourself in your dog's place" can go a long way towards helping people understand and respect their pet's needs.