In recent years there has been much controversy over the right way to train our dogs. It was only a few years ago when Cesar Millan affirmed his Cesar’s Way philosophy on our television screens, in an effort for us to train dogs to respect boundaries and limitations to help them grow happy dogs, just as we would do with our children. Many experts disagree with Cesar’s training methods, but in his “Dog Whisperer” programs by National Geographic we have seen such moments of tenderness the strict Cesar shares with his dogs (do you remember his chats with pitbull terrier Daddy?) to bring tears to our eyes. So, given these premises, why should we be polite to our dogs?
Why be nice people around dogs?
The answer to this question is one and one only: dogs, like humans when babies, learn from their environment. If they see aggression and anger around them, that will be the way they will learn to behave for the rest of their lives. Whereas if they are surrounded by a relaxed and harmonious atmosphere, they will learn to face and respond to challenges in life in the same calm manner.
I want to show you below a video that explains how perceptive of human emotions dogs can be above and beyond any other animal. Enjoy it!!
Dogs are a sensitive bunch
It us renowned that dogs are a particularly sensitive type of pets, much respondent to their owners’ moods. How many times have we read about, or again seen on telly, dogs who become apprehensive at seeing their owners cry.
Dogs’ perception extends even beyond the realm of moods, where it is said that dogs can perceive illness in humans – although they say in these last cases their perception or intuition is also much dictated by potential smells from chemical reactions in the human body.
Certainly I have noticed with our Indy that he can understand when I am annoyed, maybe because my son has done or said something stupid (typical of teenage kids!!), or indeed if I am tired after a long and stressful day at work.
On the other hand our Indy does understand when we are happy, when we are up for a laugh, or when we are having a sociable time with guests in the house.
When there are tensions in the house, Indy will place himself in a corner, quietly as to not make things worse. But when we are happy, Indy will be with us, in between our legs and wanting to join us on the sofa to watch a comedy show on the telly, as if he wanted to be part of the fun and share in the enjoyment of the moment.
And yes, Indy will be begging for food all the time, as he is a scavenger. But when we have pizza on Friday evenings (one of our ritual to mark the beginning of the weekend), he will go stir crazy, as he knows that’s again fun time for him too!!
Talk to your dog
Training and behavioural experts advise that, when training a dog, we should teach him or her basic commands through our body language and through the movements of our our hands and arms. But I believe that talking to your dog is equally important.
And guess what? But of course I talk to my Indy!!
This does not mean that I bombard him with nonsensical chatter. But I talk to him when we play, or sometimes during our walks, or I can explain to him, through a few words here and there, what I am getting up to when he sits with me in the kitchen in the evening while I prepare dinner.
Again, some experts say that dogs can only understand up to some 300 words of the human vocabulary. But other experts emphasise on the fact that dogs are much drawn by sounds. So, for instance, with terriers who like squeaky sounds reproducing the sound of vermin, such as mice and rats, the sounds that will appeal to them are the ones of vowels such as ‘i’ or ‘ee’. With my Indy I use many made up words that contain such sounds, so that sometimes I will call him ‘Din Din’ instead, because those two words pronounced on rather high pitched voice will draw his attention to me.
But, again in the same way as with human babies, dogs can pick up on whether words are said in anger or in a relaxed and calm manner. If for argument sake we tell a baby or toddler off using the nastiest and most offensive words in the world (something that probably does not come natural to most of us!) but said in a smiling and relaxed voice, the child will not understand the meaning of those nasty words, but will respond giggling and playfully. And if we revert the little social experiment to do the opposite and say most loving things to babies with an angry expression on our face portraying in fact aggression, sometimes accompanied by an altered and louder tone of our voice, the child will understand he or she may have done something wrong, and may end up in fear of repercussions.
Without necessarily falling into the realm of good parenting and child education (for which I certainly do not make claims to be an expert at all!), it is however said that adult behaviour is often the product of childhood experience and surrounding environment as much as own genes and personal predisposition. So a person with violent tendencies would most likely have been brought up in a violent environment, and possibly would have been victim of violence themselves.
With dogs it is exactly the same. The difference lays in the fact that, thankfully, not all people exposed to nasty experiences in their childhood become undesirable individual in adulthood. A dog however does not have the same mental capacity of discerning as we humans have. Hence if shown aggression, your dog will respond with aggression. If shown kindness, your dog will be kinder to other dogs as well as with the household.
Please and sorry
So again, going back to the example of child parenting, one of your main priorities is to teach children not to expect or demand for things, but to ask politely. I remember my mum telling me when I was little that “the words I Want don’t even grow in the King’s garden!!”.
And here’s where I am risking becoming controversial when it comes to dog training. Ask your dog politely to do or not to do things, say ‘please’ or ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ to your dog.
I have always made a point of treating my dog with the same level of politeness as I would treat any of my family members or anyone else in society.
And I have mentioned how I am not the most assertive of dog trainers with my Indy. Yet I would not say that Indy is a rascal of a dog, and partly I believe it is in virtue of the fact that we aim to deliver a happy environment around him.
Nevertheless, as it is part of every day routine, of course I shall get him to sit before giving him his biscuits at the end of his dinner. But in that case, I either say ‘Sit’ to him with a smile on my face, or I will say ‘Sit please’.
Or again, sometimes we can inadvertently trip over Indy if he is standing behind us (he thinks he is a lion, but he’s still a Border after all, hence not big at all!). Well, we’ll apologise to him, in the same way as I remember doing to my son when he was a little boy, by reassuring Indy that it was an accident and we didn’t mean it. And yes, we’ll rub it better for him too.
Don’t push me around
The same principle of politeness can be applied to physical training for your dog. So many times, on videos as much as in life, I have seen dogs been moved by being pushed out of the way. Or by being forcefully pulled, dog owners at times force their canine pets to beat stubbornness into following their master in one direction rather than where they want to go.
My answer to that is with a question in turn: would you like if people pushed or pulled you out of the way? So, why do the same to your dog?
There are a few training programs out there that in fact endorse such approach. If you need to move your dog out of a room, or away from a baby’s cot, or out of danger anywhere in the house, yes, indeed you may need to drag them out of the way by their collar, as dogs can be stubborn after all – and I know too well what stubbornness means in a dog, such as my Border Terrier (!!!). But you may want to accompany your dragging gesture by verbally explaining to your dog why you are doing so, and saying maybe words to the effect of “Sorry, Indy, but I don’t want you to get hurt” or “Be careful, Din Din, as cars are coming through”.
A dog is a dog. Why go through the bother?
Oh yes, it is undeniable that a dog is a dog. And as such we should respect their canine nature and instinct. Believe you me, I never aim to treat my dog as a surrogate baby!!
But a happy dog makes us happy owners, and vice versa. A happy dog will socialise better with other dogs (and why not, cats too), he or she will be more nicely playful and will respect boundaries and limitations, to use some of Ceser Millan’s favourite words.
But a dog will become happier if he or she can pick up good-natured tone of voice and body language, rather than a tense environment. Family life is not always rosy and tensions are unavoidable at times. But do explain to your dog that you are not angry with them, or that you are upset because you have heard a really bad news. And say sorry to your dog for shouting when talking to someone over the phone or face to face, or in any other stressed circumstance.
Because being polite to your dog in the long run will make you both happier beings!!
Are you a ‘pusher’ or a ‘polite’ dog owner? Do you talk to your dog, or do you impart commands assertively? Do you use a softer approach or are you a ‘hard cookie’ with your hound? Share your experience below. All and any opinions are welcome!!!