Understanding Dog Psychology

Dog psychology is not like human psychology and, often, that communication gap leads to damaged relationships between people and their pets. By learning how your dog perceives the world, you can help him learn to fit into yours.

Body Language

Dogs do not use language to communicate. In fact, many scientists believe that barking evolved with human interaction. In the wild, wolves only use howls to communicate location. All other communication is through body language.

Understanding what your dog's body language signifies can help you communicate with him. For example, if your dog has his tail tucked, ears back, pupils wide and body low, he's afraid. If he's afraid of a strange person in your home, provide him with comfort by increasing his distance from that person and rewarding him with treats when he relaxes. Provide him with a means of escape so he can separate himself from that person.

If his tail is up, wagging stiffly, his body is completely stiff and his ears are forward, he may be over-aroused and near attack. Redirect him away from the object on which he is focused, such as another dog, and ask him to perform behaviors that he knows, such as sit and down, to keep his mind off the stimulus.

Dog Perception

Dogs live in the moment. They don't plot revenge or hold onto memories from earlier in the day. Thus, your dog does not feel guilty for peeing on the floor hours before you got home from work. He also didn't do it to get revenge for your long work day.

Your dog peed on the floor because he had to relieve himself and has not been taught where to do that. He chewed up your shoes because they smell like you, they were available and it feels good to chew.

When you walk in the door, see the shoes and get angry, your dog hunches over and avoids your gaze because you are acting angry. He does not connect your anger with the action of chewing the shoe, even if you pick it up and wave it in his face. All he knows is that you walked in the door and got very angry. This can increase separation anxiety, not because your dog is upset that you are gone but afraid of the time when you will come home and get irrationally angry.

Pack Dynamic

The term "alpha dog" is a buzz word in dog training, but few people know what it means. An alpha dog is the calm, effective leader of the pack. He never loses his temper or uses excessive aggression to correct problems.

In the wild, aggression is very energy-intensive. Thus, excessive reactions are avoided since that energy is needed for hunting and mating. Only "alpha-wannabes" over-correct. If you respond to your dog with anything but calm, you are not responding like an "alpha."

If your dog is making mistakes that make you angry, such as chewing, he has too much house freedom. Limit his freedom when you aren't home and train him when you are home. Then, you can respond to your dog calmly in the moment and teach him the right response.

When you are communicating clearly and effectively, he can respond properly, creating a bond based on trust and respect between you and your dog.