Dog Psychology 101

If you want to train your dog to perform obedience, the basics, sit down stand stay etc or you want to get rid of undesirable behaviors, having a basic understanding of the background in dogs and their inherent traits is a good idea.

Our Dog’s Are Jealous

Dogs are born with inherited instincts.  Regardless of what people may think, our dogs are not humans.  Our pet dogs live in a human environment, but they do not live, act or breath the same way us humans do.  There is a term that is used whereby us humans apply our human characteristics to our pet dogs.  That term is call ‘Anthropomorphism’.

Wikipedia states Anthropomorphism as:

‘Anthropomorphism is the attribution of uniquely human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, natural and supernatural phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts. Subjects for anthropomorphism commonly include animals and plants depicted as creatures with human motivation able to reason and converse, forces of nature such as winds or the sun, components in games, unseen or unknown sources of chance, etc. Almost anything can be subject to anthropomorphism. ‘

In other words, we apply our human characteristics to our dogs as if they were humans.  For instance, emotions such as jealously, anger, sadness, spite etc.

Dogs do not understand these characteristics.  We may identify our dog’s responses to certain situations as such, growling at the new born baby when it arrives.  When we pat another dog they push their way in front of that dog, or other such situations where we pay attention or not to our dogs.  What we need to do is see our dogs as members of a pack.

You see, when our dogs are born, they learn a lot of their basic characteristics from their mother and their litter mates.  They quickly learn, through a pack mentality who are afforded the privileges through strength and determination and who are not.  During the first 6-8 weeks of a young dogs life, you can pretty well determine which dog can carry through a personality for the duration of their life.

It’s when we take our dogs home is when things start to get messed up.  A lot of people tend to treat their dogs like a child.  Molly coddle them and let them sleep with them in their bed or otherwise, give them privileges that would be afforded to the top dog in the pack.  If we begin to give these privileges to the young dog, they soon begin to see them as their right rather then a privilege, and may begin to exhibit growling or nipping to reinforce their position.  Something that is exhibited in their young dog pack to the leaders within that pack.

Establish Rules

The best thing anyone can do, from day dot with a young pup, an adult pup from a rescue situation or a dog that has behavior problems is to establish rules that they communicate to the dog, they are a subordinate within the dog/family pack.

Recommendations for a dog are:

  • establish a sleeping area separate away from the family.  Preferably in a kennel or cage.  A lot of people do not like this as they ‘think’ (like a human) that the dog would like to sleep with the family.  Of course it would, but behavior problems can arise if they sleep with the family.  They may perceive themselves as an equal to the family pack.
  • establish elimination training (outside) away from the main family area.  This also reinforces the main living area or the main members and ensures cleanliness and routine for the dog.
  • don’t allow the dog to move freely around the house or main living area.  As soon as it sees that it can have free reign of wherever it wants, this may lead to problems down the track with sleeping on couches, rooms etc.
  • try to initiate all instances of integration with the dog.  If the dog is constantly ‘wanting’ to play or hounding you for attention, this may lead to the dog showing behavior of attention or whining.  A lot of people mistake the whining and howling as  signs of boredom.  This is often the dog showing its sign of dissatisfaction of the situation at hand.
  • always try to make the dog ‘EARN’ pats, food or attention via a command of sorts.  Whether it be a sit for a food morsel, a stay before walking through a gate or door or some other behavior that allows to perform some basic maneuver around the house.  This establishes the fact that you are in control of the environment and not it.

Always remember this, we have our dog for our pleasure, not the pleasure of it.  Once a dog understands the rules of its environment and its place within the family pack, it is a happy dog.  Too often once a dog is afforded privileges that are afforded to higher members within the household, or those to which it believes it is its right, the dog may then begin to exhibit behaviors that we deem undesirable.  ie aggression, barking, scratching digging etc.

What do we do then?

Start treating your dog like it is a dog and not a human.  We do not want the dog to be the leader of the pack, we want it to be a part of the pack.  Dog’s are pack animals and should be treated as such. Pack leaders are afforded the privileges amongst the lower members of the pack. Those pack leaders then reinforce their position with violence and aggression.  More often than not, (other than a medical problem) this is the root cause of a lot of behavior problems with dogs.

The old saying, prevention is better than the cure rings true with dogs.  If you can establish rules early on, instead of being molly coddlying mother with the dog, you will do better in the long run with your dog.  I am not saying to ignore and cruel to your dog, what I am saying, if you want a long lasting positive relationship with your dog, establish the ground rules early and you will not be in a position whereby you think you need to dispose of your dog to a rescue centre or worse, put it down due to the fact that the dog is annoying the hell out of you and you see no other way out.

  1. Yes, a good introduction to dog psychology – but oh – if only the punctuation had been better ….. such as the difference between “its” and “it’s” eg “Once a dog understands the rules of it’s environment and it’s place within the…

    Simply put – just like the dog psychology – “it’s” is an abbreviation (short for) “it is”, therefore, if you apply “it is” to the above quotation from the article, you can see that the sentence really does not make sense. The correct use of “it’s” and “its” in the appropriate place can make all the difference to the credibility of the article. Your comments please …!

  2. hehe….thank you for that…I have corrected my spelling mistakes.

  3. Grammar police… geez.
    Anyway great article. Was very helpful. Thank you. We rescued a dog recently and fortunately we are doing most of the things listed in your suggestions already so it’s feels good to have our actions backed up. She doesn’t have any major behavioral problems but still has a little puppy in her and we’re still trying to introduce her to the cat!

  4. Hi,

    How do you resolve biting problem? I’ve just adopted a stray 2 months plus puppy recently. I’ve tried various methods (Dog’s whisperer’s touching method, bitter spray, growling at him, ignoring & even very light beating with a small ruler), it still didn’t work. Please help as I’m starting to feel a bit irritated & desperate.

    Thanks in advance:)

  5. Great foundation for getting started, and I agree with let’s focus on the content instead of the grammar or don’t read it.

  6. Get on top of this real quick.

    Couple of schools of thought on this.

    1. Some say, when the dog bites you, let out a loud ‘OUCH’ or screech, loud enough to startle the dog, then walk away take yourself away from the dog. The dog learns, it bites, you go away, fun stops. Over time, it might stop the biting. This is known as shaping. You aren’t administering any corrections, but you are trying to teach the dog, if does a certain act, good things will stop. Can be a long process if the act of biting is inherently reinforcing.

    2. Every time the dog bites, you simulate a bit back. In a pack, if a puppy or dog bites the leader, and it doesn’t like it, it will turn around, snap (with it’s front teeth) around the face or neck area and give a growl. Generally, this only has to happen once and the puppy/dog knows, I better stop doing this. This is the hotplate technique. The aversion should be such that you should only have to do it once for it be effective. To simulate this, if the dog bites you, you quickly grab it around the scruff, grab it, hold it down and growl, saying ‘NO, NO, NO’….GRRRRRRR!! in such a way that the dog should be shocked. Then walk away.

    I prefer using 2, because it is quick and the dog’s understand it. Plus, your puppy is young enough for there not to be any pack issues atm.

    Now, all the dog owners/trainers out there might not like technique 2, but I have done this with my dogs, other’s dogs & puppies, and I have had a 100% success rate.

    All the best Jo.

  7. that sounds utterly stupid.

  8. Hi glen, I have been looking after my family dog whilst my parents have been away, I have had him for under 3 weeks now and he has started exhibiting some serious aggression. He is a 2yr old golden retriever, spade and has been well trained by my father and most of us try to carry on the same way. In the past week my dog Archie has snapped aggressively and barked at various ppl entering rooms (that he doesn’t know well) knocking on doors, people trying to pet him or say hello. In the past; he has only been known to show such aggression when someone has their face covered (helmet, hood etc) or walking in the dark and Archie not knowing the person or touching his food or him while eating, But never at people petting or knocking an walking into a room like now. I have been making a very conscious effort to discipline him when he has done this immediately after it happens – I normally grab him by the scruff of the neck and pull him down to a down stay position or flick him on the nose and sort of growl/tell him off in my deepest voice. By the way I am female. He normally lives in the suburbs in m parents house and they don’t really take him out to cafes with them or things like that, they just hang out at home with him and walk him twice a day and show him lots of love. But since staying with me I suppose he hasn’t been walked as much, he’s been in a car a lot which I know makes him anxious and he’s been in a lot o new places he doesn’t know very well. I have now understood that this is a catalyst for his anxiety behaviour and his aggression but it doesn’t seem right to just leave it to that and hope that he will be fine. I need some help and perspective into what I need to do. I haven’t got him with me for much longer as I think he needs to go home, but I would like to get your opinion and share it with my family and friends who all know Archie well and in the past week have seen a side to him that they hasn’t before. Maybe some other things to mention are that he doesn’t act like this when walking on lead or off, most only when I am sitting down and he is at my feet or in my studio when I am at my desk and someone knocks / walks into my office. After he does it and I reprimand him he often cowers at me or at the person and you might assume he is apologising / feeling bad like he did something wrong but then you will go to pay his head and he’ll snarl or snap again, however a second before he is wagging his tail. I have been so worried about it and don’t want this to be an issue that we can’t fix. Hope you can shed some light or guidance to the situation. One last thing, sorry, I have tried the correcting as I’ve told you, and I have started to try and give ppl treats to give him when they meet him so that he knows its a good thing and that person isn’t a threat, but it doesn’t always work like this. He has been allowed on my bed in the past at night – a weakness of mine – and my mother and probably myself have smothered him with love a bit too much – I feel as though he has some separation anxiety too.
    Ok I’ll finish now. Hope to hear back from you, my email is: [email protected]
    Thanks, Kasia

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