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Understanding Your Dog Through Evolution, Part Two

Author: Sarah Tulicki | Date: April 24, 2014

In Part One of her post, Sarah examined the evolution of domesticated dogs. In Part Two, she explores how to use your dog’s instincts in training, and how that can strengthen the human/dog bond.

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Training your dog is all about communication between two different species that physically cannot speak the same language. When you think of it this way, training sounds really hard. So throw your pooch a bone and help him out.

  • Vocal: talk to your dog as much as you need to. He can interpret your happy high pitched tone from your deeper, frustrated tone.
  • Gesture: use your hands. Dogs don’t speak English; their first language is body language, so using hand signals when training can help a dog be much more successful than command words.
  • Space: since dogs respond so well to body movements, a simple step forward can stop a dog in its tracks. For example, when working on “stay”, if your dog is about to step out of position, you can stop him by taking a step forward. It’s just the opposite with “come”; if you take steps back when calling your dog or even run in the other direction, he will want to follow you. Turn a game of chase around on them.

Solo vs. Packs

As scientists have begun to study feral dogs, it has become clear that dogs do not live in the highly structured packs that we see wolves form. This doesn’t mean that dogs don’t live together and form relationships, but since dogs don’t hunt large game like elk there is little need for the formation of large packs. This is why many trainers have begun to question concepts like “Alpha” and “Dominance”. Dogs have arguments, just like people do. Some are pushy and bossy, and some have great leadership skills, but that doesn’t mean that they will be in charge of every situation. When a dog growls at another dog, he is communicating his displeasure, not necessarily being dominant.

What can we do about this?

  • We can recognize that there is still much to learn about a dog’s mind and find more benevolent methods of training and communicating with our dogs, without use of shock collars and chokers.
  • Communicate to our dogs the behaviors that we like by praising them.
  • Ignore or withhold rewards for behaviors we dislike.

Domesticated vs. Wild

As we know, dogs are domesticated and gray wolves are wild animals. Scientists have conducted studies on what this means by hand raising puppies and wolf pups. They find that around 4 months of age wolf pups will start to act significantly different. Puppies will seek out human attention, wolf pups will not. They are more independent and self-reliant; they will also begin to guard food from the humans that raised them. By 18 months of age they have become a danger to the humans they live with. This, of course, makes any misbehaving domesticated puppy look like an angel, but it is the essence of the human/dog bond.

Why does this matter? This demonstrates that the bond with our dogs is special. The domestication of dogs is an amazing phenomenon, and positive training helps to strengthen the bond between a human/dog pair.

Please share with us your human/dog bonding stories!

 


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