Integrating Our Dogs into Our World
Authors: Scott and Holly Nelson
Canine Behavior Specialists
Most dogs are taught to perform tricks. Numerous dogs can sit when they are told and many dogs will even lie-down for a cookie. But is this all there is to dog training?
In previous generations canines were used primarily as working dogs. These dogs did not live indoors with their owners, but lived mostly outdoors, in farm buildings, kennels or dog houses. Because they lived a life of service and were thought of as property they were taught only basic obedience and job specific commands.
In today’s modern society dogs live a dramatically different kind of life. They live with us as family members spending the majority of their time indoors, interacting with us, accompanying us on our daily activities, and being treated like a favorite child. With this change of lifestyle, basic and job specific commands are no longer adequate to integrate our canine friends into our domestic world. To sucessfully live with our dogs we need to understand the social dynamics that exist between us and our dogs.
As dog trainers, we get calls every day from people telling us they are frustrated with their dogs. What is the reason for their frustration? Well, the answer is quite simple, dogs do not naturally think like humans and humans do not naturally think like dogs. Dogs and humans do not understand each other and living with someone or something you don’t understand will cause endless hours of frustration.
An example of this type of frustration can easily be seen in the short sequence of dialog that follows. An imaginary man named Gus and his now one year old Labrador retriever named Scruffy are the characters in this unfortunate scenario. Scruffy and Gus have been living together since Scruffy was 8 weeks old, Gus enjoys having Scruffy as a pet and Scruffy really likes being owned by Gus. However, this enjoyment does not prevent frustration from arising.
Gus and Scruffy’s typical Monday Morning
As we enter the scene we see Gus heading towards the kitchen to get his morning coffee and Scruffy is bouncing around Gus’s feet. Gus is thinking, “That was a great weekend, but now I need to get my coffee, get ready for work, and, and get to the office.”
Scruffy on the other hand is just happy to finely see Gus. He has been awake for an hour and greets him by wiggling around his feet and wagging his tail.
Scruffy is thinking, “You’re up, you’re up, now let me out to go potty!”
While waiting for his coffee to brew, Gus concentrates on all the unfinished business piling up at work.
Scruffy is still bouncing around trying to get Gus’s attention, he is thinking, “Come on come on, what’s the holdup? I really gotta go outside to go potty!”
The coffee is ready and Gus pours himself a cup then, with his coffee cup in hand he leaves the kitchen to get ready for work. Simultaneously Scruffy makes a spinning leap bumping into Gus causing him to spill his coffee. With an aggravated tone Gus exclaims, “Ahh, you bad dog, you spilled my coffee!” Grabbing Scruffy, he shoves him out the back door, saying, “Just go outside and go potty.” Closing the door, Gus mumbles about his spilled coffee, cleans up the coffee mess, gets another cup, and then goes to get ready for work.
Feeling slightly confused about being shoved out the door so roughly, Scruffy goes and takes care of his potty business. He comes back to the door wondering what happened to Gus. Jumping on the door to get Gus’s attention Scruffy is thinking. “Let me in, let me in, I am not supposed to be out here, I am supposed to be in there with you.”
Gus doesn’t hear Scruffy’s antics because he is in the shower. When he is done showering, he throws on his robe, and goes back to the kitchen to make himself breakfast. He sees Scruffy jumping on the sliding glass door and his level of irritation rises. Gus is thinking, “I hate it when he jumps on the door. I am not going to let him in.” While making his breakfast, Gus remembers that he still needs to feed Scruffy. So he grabs Scruffy’s bowl, fills it with kibble, and opens the door to take it out on the porch.
Seeing that Gus is opening the door, Scruffy pushes past Gus and bolts into the house. He makes a mad dash around the kitchen and takes a flying leap at Gus. Scruffy is thinking, “Yea, I’m in, I’m in, now we can play!”
Gus, stumbling under the impact of Scruffy’s leap, almost drops the food. He recovers his balance and then makes his way outside to put the food on the porch. He exclaims, “Scruffy, Settle down and get out here.
Scruffy, still excited, runs through the door and jumps around trying to get Gus to play.
Gus pushes Scruffy off of him and snaps, “No jumping, settle down!”
Scruffy still wanting to play, grabs his ball that is on the porch, and pokes it at Gus to show him that he wants to play ball.
Relieved that Scruffy has finally stopped jumping and not understanding that he wants to play ball, Gus shakes the food bowl to get Scruffy’s attention.
Hearing the noise, Scruffy looks up at him.
Finally getting Scruffy’s attention, Gus quickly says in a commanding voice, “Sit Scruffy, sit, sit.” Gus’s intention is to have Scruffy sit calmly while he puts the food bowl down.
Instead of sitting, Scruffy backs up a little, thinking, “I don’t want to eat now, and I want to play.
Gus then commands Scruffy again, “Sit I said sit. Come on Scruffy you know how to sit, now sit down.”
Still intent on playing ball, Scruffy sets the ball at Gus’s feet, takes a few steps back, sits down, and stares intently at Gus waiting for him to pick up the ball and throw it.
Thrilled that Scruffy has finally sat down, Gus says, “Good boy Scruffy.” Then he sets the food on the porch and says “Here’s your food.” Having accomplished his propose he goes back in the house.
Surprised that Gus didn’t throw the ball and affronted that he went away instead Scruffy thinks, “Hey, where did you go? Come back out and throw the ball.” He paws at the door trying to get Gus to come back out.
However Gus is in the kitchen rushing around making his breakfast. He hears Scruffy scratching at the door and yells, get away from the door and go eat your food.
Being persistent Scruffy scratches on the door some more.
Now Gus is getting irritated, he realizes he is beginning to run a little late with his morning preparations so when he hears Scruffy’s persistent scratching he stomps over to the door, forcefully opens it, and then shouts, “Scruffy get away from the door, go eat your food!”
Scruffy hears the angry tone in Gus’s voice and knows that Gus won’t come out to play when he sounds like that. Scruffy goes away from the door, thinking, “I wonder what caused my exile?” Sulking about being left outside Scruffy settles down and lies near the door.
After having his breakfast and another cup of coffee Gus calms down and is no longer irritated, he is thinking, Scruffy stopped scratching at the door, so I will let him come inside now.
As the door opens Scruffy jumps up and down thinking, “Yea your back, now let’s play!”
Gus notices the untouched food, he always feels frustrated with Scruffy when the food is left uneaten. He wants Scruffy to be healthy and he doesn’t like to waste the expensive dog food. In his frustration, Gus gestures by waving his arms around in the air to emphasize his words while yelling, “Scruffy why didn’t you eat your food, I buy you the best and you don’t even touch it. Don’t waste your food, eat it!”
Interpreting Gus’s arm waving gestures and loud vocalizations as an invitation to play Scruffy grabs the ball and wildly jumps around with it, thinking, “Here is the ball, I am ready to play.” During one of his exuberant jumps Scruffy accidently lands on the food bowl knocking it over spilling the food.
Now Gus’s frustration has turned to anger and he bellows at Scruffy, “That’s it, I’ve had it, and I don’t have time for this, I have got to get ready for work. Scruffy just eat your food!” Gus leaves the food spilled on the porch and goes back inside.
Scruffy runs to the door to go inside with Gus, but the door closes before he makes through. Now Scruffy is getting frustrated he doesn’t know what he did and why he is left outside again.”
Gus heads to his room and while he is getting dressed he feels upset for getting so angry at Scruffy. With a guilty conscience, he is thinking, “I shouldn’t have been so hard on Scruffy. I am sure he didn’t mean to spill his food. I will go back outside and pet him for a little while to let him know everything is ok between us. I can get to the office a few minutes late Scruffy needs some attention before I leave.
Meanwhile, Scruffy gives up on Gus and wanders away from the door. He stands in the middle of the yard looking at a mound of dirt next to the fence. It is fresh dirt that Gus used to cover up the last hole that Scruffy made. Scruffy is thinking, “I want to play. I will dig out. Then I will go and play with Ginger.” Scruffy runs over to the dirt and starts to dig out of the yard.
Dressed and ready for work, Gus goes to make up with Scruffy, but as he looks out the glass door he sees Scruffy across the yard digging under the fence. Feeling frustrated Gus is thinking, “I can’t believe it! I just filled in that hole and he’s digging out of the yard again! Remembering the last time Scruffy dug out and how upset the neighbors were about all the havoc that he caused, Gus vowed he would not allow Scruffy to dig out again while he was at work. He goes out the door with the intentions of getting Scruffy to bring him in and put him in the garage for the day.
Scruffy hears Gus come out the door and thinks, “Yea he’s here, he came back out to play after all.” He stops digging, and excitedly races over to Gus, jumping all over him when he arrives.
Gus yells, “Scruffy you stupid dog, stop jumping on me!” He looks down at the dirt on his suit and pushes Scruffy away while snapping, “I have my good suit on. Uhg, your paws are all dirty.” Gus quickly steps back through the sliding glass door and slams it shut before Scruffy can jump on him anymore.
Scruffy jumps up on the glass smearing dirt all over it.
Gus yells, “Look what you did now, there is dirt all over the door!
Not wanting to get his suit any dirtier and knowing he doesn’t have time to change his clothes, he opens the door slightly and when Scruffy attempts to burst in, Gus grabs him by the collar and pulls him through the house towards the entrance of the garage.
Astonished by Gus’s forcefulness and startled by being pulled through the house Scruffy is thinking, “Hey, wait, let go of me, what are you doing? This isn’t a good game. Then Scruffy realizes Gus is taking him to the garage. Scruffy resists by dragging his feet and putting his head down.
Gus overrides Scruffy’s resistants’ by using more force to drag him to the garage.
Scruffy thinks, “Let go, I don’t want to go in there.”
Gus shoves Scruffy in the garage, closes the door, and then attempts to clean the dirt off of his suit coat. “What am I going to do with Scruffy? I wish he would just behave.” Realizing that he is making the coat worse by wiping it, Gus abandons the cleaning job, grabs another coat from his closet, finds his keys and runs out the door to his car. As he starts the car he worries about Scruffy in the garage. He mumbles aloud to himself, “I don’t know if that was a good idea to leave Scruffy in the garage. He will probably tear up my stuff again. Then as he is pulling out of the driveway he thinks, “Oh no I think I left the camping gear on the floor of the garage. Oh I can’t deal with this now. I have got to get to work.”
Meanwhile in the garage, Scruffy jumps up and scratches at the door leaving another set of scratch marks. After a few minutes of clawing, he stops and listens for Gus. Not hearing anything and realizing that the house is empty, he concludes that he has been abandon in the garage once again., “He shouldn’t put me in here and then run away like that.” So Scruffy trots over to the camping gear that is lying on the floor, grabs Gus’s expensive new backpack, and begins his rampage of destruction, thinking, “This will show him he shouldn’t abandon me!”
As you can see Gus and Scruffy have had very different plans for the day. Both man and dog thought they were in charge of each other. I suspect we will get a call any day now from Gus asking us to help him with the problems he is having with Scruffy.
You’re probably wondering how I integrate my dog into my world without experiencing this kind of frustration. The solution is not difficult. All you need to do is learn the way canines think learn how to communicate with them, and show them that you are their trusted Alpha-leader. Once you have this knowledge you can communicate with your dog clearly, teaching him how to fit into our domestic lifestyle.
As dog trainers, we have studied canines and canine pack interaction. We have learned some remarkable things about dog’s social behavior, stages of social maturity, social order, and leadership. We have also developed a way to recognize what social position your dog believes he occupies within your household. For more information sign up for a free membership on our web site, and as you read the information presented you will come to have an amazing new understanding of your dog and the reason behind his different behaviors.