What do dogs think about us?

I love breeding dogs; it has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life.  There is a deep sense of satisfaction in knowing so many of the puppies I have sent away to new homes over the past 45 years have made a real difference in the people’s lives.

What about the flip side of that coin though? What do people do to make the life of their new puppy the best it can be?  Are you truly prepared to be as devoted to your puppy as your puppy is to you?  Most people immediately answer, “Yes!”

“I take my pup to the vets for regular visits, feed the puppy a really good food, buy lots of toys and wonderful cozy beds…. what more can a puppy need?”

I think what every dog needs is a fulfilling relationship with their person. Physical needs are easy to buy or supply a dog. Supplying their emotional needs is often where the trouble begins. For example, I often hear with the service dogs I place, that people assume the dog finds the service work to be so satisfying and they don’t need to do anything else for the dog to be happy. 

Sure, dogs love to work, but it is your relationship with them that gives the service work meaning, so it is beyond just a rote chore of whatever task the dog is doing for you.  I have seen great working dogs stop working for a person not because they forgot what to do, rather because there was no mutual bond of respect, love and trust between the dog and person they are paired with.

The unfortunate part of situations like this is often the dog is sold, rehomed, or given up for adoption. The dog is almost always blamed. The problem is almost always the people.  If you are seeing a lack of performance from your dog (service dog or otherwise) behavior issues, or disinterest in wanting to even be with you, then I think you need to ask yourself some questions and think hard about your answers.

  1. What is the one thing you do with your dog that really makes your dog “smile”?  How often do you actually do this thing with your dog?
  2. How much one on one time doing some activity, do you really spend with your dog during each day?  Keep a log and you might be surprised how you really spend your time.
  3. Do you have a regularly scheduled training, grooming, and play time set aside with your dog?
  4. When you plan things how do you think about your dog in regards to these plans:  Do you choose places based on your needs and wants or do you consider what is there to offer your dog?

The answers to the questions will tell where your dog fits into your life and will reveal a lot about why your dog may be acting the way he or she is.

Dogs don’t ask much from us. They expect us to be consistent, to be as honest as they are and to communicate in a way they can understand.  To help develop a satisfying emotional relationship with your dog I think the communication part is probably the most important one to focus on. It is easy to get angry at your dog when he seemingly ignores you while he is doing something else.  When a dog is intently focused on something that interests him I can only imagine he would prefer we don’t bother him until he is finished. That rarely happens since we all too often insist whatever we want is far more important. Think about when this situation has last happened with you and your dog.  Were you angry when the dog didn’t “hear” you?  Did you use force to get him to focus on you again? Or did you try a gentler approach to get his attention?  How you view and react to what a dog does will help you understand why your relationship is what it is with your dog today. There are many more examples, but the point I want to make here is simple. Do not always blame the dog when things are not going the way you want them to in your relationship.  Look at how you relate, react, and communicate with your dog for clues to understanding how to improve things.

Image of chocolate lab with a  ball

How a dog thinks about reward is not the same as humans.

Dogs are after all, dogs.  It is far too easy to ascribe human traits to them or speak about them using emotional terms that are purely human. In an excellent book, How Dogs Love Us, by a research neuro scientist doing MRIs on dog’s brains while the dogs were awake, Gregory Berns showed there was no difference to a dog between the “high” value rewards of hot dogs over the “low” value treats of peas.  Obviously, people gave the treats value based on what they perceived; in this case the hot dog as being a “Better” treat than the pea. Interestingly enough the dogs brain patterns were the same for both.

The relationship you have with your dog is dynamic which means it goes both ways. I teach a dynamic living with your dog course to help people realize misconceptions they may have in what they think they are communicating to their dogs as well as how to interpret what the dogs are communicating to them. The main thing though with any of this is you must be willing to make the commitment to try. It takes an open mind and heart to create any meaningful exchange between you and your dog. It takes a desire to want to know and learn what our dogs have to say. If you are willing to give of yourself and your time, I can guarantee you will be rewarded with a profound and powerful understanding not only of your best friend but of your deepest emotional self.