Understanding dog psychology - help your dog, help yourself, all three are intertwined. When we understand the profound ways that we affect our dog’s mind and behaviour we step into a world of positive growth, for our dogs, for ourselves. What we get right. What we misinterpret. What we get completely wrong, and how to better understand and direct ourselves - so we can better understand and support our dogs.
To Be Consciously Aware is Essential
I see and hear the term ‘dog psychology’ used everywhere – on dog trainers’ and behaviorists’ websites, on professional group discussion boards I participate in. The word ‘psychology’ has become a trap, a catch-all, a regurgitation of misconceptions about dogs - a disaster that needs to be fixed, for the sake of our dogs, and ourselves. For the most part dog’s do exactly what their human tells them to do…
Thought Streaming on Auto Pilot - Working Against the Greater Good
Most of us move through our typical day surrounded, and yes flooded by visual and audio stimuli which we observe casually, without depth, without deliberate conscious thought - we are on auto-pilot. We ‘see’, we talk, we react on auto-pilot. When we do this to excess we fall out of the good habit of deliberate, conscious choice – this has a serious impact on our ability to connect within ourselves to direct our thoughts, and our communication.
For the majority of us our default state is an emotive-reactive state where we forget to be truly observant and present. We default to a state were logic is absent, and omission is enabled – meaning we do not consciously see, feel, sense many of the details that surround us. This is also how many of us habitually communicate – from a state of surface awareness
When Auto Pilot Becomes a Healthy Default State
Auto-pilot is advantageous when it includes the habit of being aware, alert, and observant – this is a healthy state of normal.
When Auto Pilot Fails Us and Our Dogs
When auto-pilot is comprised of unconscious stream of thought and reactivity you become just what you don’t want your dog to be – inattentive, unfocused, flooded and reactive. An undesirable state of normal.
Observation is a Foundation to Understanding
The typical dog is an observant being with an acute ability to perceive what we are really communicating, which is often very different from what we ‘think’ we are communicating while we are on auto-pilot. Some dogs have heightened sensitivity (HS). A dog with HS has a level of perception that exceeds the average dog’s already perceptive senses. Heightened sensitivity is an asset that can be leveraged to achieve a deep bond with us, when it is understood and properly utilized. When heightened sensitivity is not recognized, not understood it becomes a serious disadvantage as you will seriously misinterpret your dog’s mind and behaviour. Does your dog have HS? Do you have HS? Read more about HS here.
Breaking Away From Our Self-Induced Limitations
Our disconnected out-of-touch, and unobservant default state is further enabled by our cultural beliefs as humans – i.e. dogs cannot express emotions as humans do. Dogs have less value as beings than humans do, etc.
We Need to Acknowledge There is More
Dogs have a full range of emotions, they also have the muscular facial structure to express those emotions. Have you ever thought you saw your dog smile, but you dismissed the ‘notion’ as ‘ridiculous’? Well, the fact of the matter is that dogs do smile - read more here. Dogs feel and express joy, surprise, sadness, grief, and everything in between. Dogs have empathy. Dogs react to stimuli much like we humans do – based on nature and nurture. Each individual (whether canine or human) has a unique combination of inherited traits, and acquired traits shaped by environmental influences. You are an environmental influence on your dog. Environmental influences help to determine how we and our dog’s react, and adjust to various situations. Do you foster ‘good’ stress reactivity in yourself or your dog, or bad stress reactivity? Find out more here.
Dogs form habits and associations to situations much like humans do – changing habits and associations in dogs and humans requires a similar approach.
And How About Diet?
Optimal function of mind and body is supported by a truly good diet and health care regimen. A combination of highly processed ‘food’, and chemical-dependent health care is not supportive of optimal brain and body function. ‘Pet’ store shelves and most veterinarian practices peddle highly processed ‘food’ that contains multiple listed and hidden toxins, and carcinogens which also disrupt our dogs’ normal, healthy serotonin levels, thyroid and other glandular levels. If you are not well informed about what constitutes a good diet you are an easy target for psychological manipulation by the pet food, veterinarian, pharmaceutical, and supplement industry. When we make uninformed choices we adversely affect our dog’s psychological state as we fail to properly support mind and body.
Training for Us – The Road to Positive Change
While a dog needs some support to change his/her habits the dog is already a good communicator. We need the training to better our communication skills, our awareness, and our insight in order to support conscious observation. This is how we change our default state, and by so doing gain the opportunity to provide true, logical and consistent leadership to ourselves and to others.
Our dogs offer us a gift – it is the gift of learning. We can choose to decline the offer, or we can rise to the challenge, and work hard to become better beings.
You can’t fool a dog. And that's the truth.
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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld