Don’t get me wrong: I love dogs! However, they can sometimes be real jerks. What we don’t often realize is that we often think this because we’re looking at them from our own perspective.
Today I was talking to a client who had three dogs, one of who had passed away. When the one dog became sick, and when it became sick one of the other dogs began to pick on it—being mean, going after it, and treating
My response was just that yes, sometimes dogs can be jerks! But her story got me thinking about other scenarios like this one that I have seen over the years. I’d like to give some perspective into just what kind of creature is living inside your home.
I still remember my first experience with dogs in a training situation, which occurred when I was working for another dog trainer. This trainer bred Rottweilers, and had a bunch of them in his home—along with a lone mutt that had somehow entered the family. If there was an issue in the play yard, it was that the Rottweilers were ganging up on the mutt. This is fairly common.
We see this play out a lot when clients have taken their dogs to the park. When people visit the park, especially with their young puppies or otherwise vulnerable dogs, they are often picked on. The dog that is vulnerable (or the child in the family, or whoever the dog sees as vulnerable) gets attacked and beaten up. Often, I jokingly chalk this up to dogs being “jerks.”
But in reality, this is definitely a evolutionary issue: weaklings don’t belong. We, as humans, have evolved beyond this urge. Ideally, we attempt to protect and help the weak amongst us even if they aren’t members of our family. That is not an urge that dogs possess. Though our dogs have many wonderful traits, it’s very important to understand what’s living in your home: an animal that has years and years of evolution behind it, has natural instincts, and is a predator.
Predators don’t have the same value systems as humans, and in some ways, that’s a good thing. But in other ways, those values suck from our perspective! Picking on vulnerable puppies, beating up on dogs just because they look different, attacking dogs that are sick—all those actions make complete sense to dogs even though they’re wrong from our perspectives.
Look at your dogs for what they are. Any aspect of dog behavior must reference who dogs really are as individuals: predator animals that are still trying to make sure that they have enough to eat every day and are safe from harm. That’s what drives your dog, not a desire to make sure everyone “fits in.” When we adopt a dog, we invite an animal motivated by survival into our home. We need to understand this concept as we train, so that we don’t make the mistake of training our dogs as if they’re little furry humans who share our value system.
Take your dogs for who they are and communicate on a level they will understand!