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Ask the experts

Family dogs are still dogs


In today's society, dogs are often treated like children. They are given names like Susie or Buddy and are expected to act like children, but they are dogs and they think and learn differently than children.

As children grow you can teach them the difference between right and wrong. Dogs are amoral. They will never understand what is right and what is wrong. They learn only what is safe or unsafe.

When a child does something wrong, you can explain to them why they are being punished for things they did a few hours ago, or even the day before. Dogs live in the here and now. When you punish them for something that occurred even a minute ago, they don't understand.

They know it's safe to check out the trash when no one is home vs. checking it out when someone is nearby. This is very different from knowing right versus wrong.

Many dogs are punished for doing what comes naturally to them.

Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs. They don't understand the difference between chewing on your shoes or their toys. Let's say your dog is under the coffee table and chewing on your slipper. You yell "No!" and the dog slinks away. Does he understand why he was punished? Absolutely not. From the dog's perspective, chewing is a natural behavior therefore lying under the table got him reprimanded. You cannot explain it to him as you would a child.

When you come into the room and discover your favorite magazine chewed, you look at the mess, and then look at the dog. You notice the dog is slinking away looking guilty and assume the dog knows he did wrong. False, he only knows every time you make the mad face he gets punished. He isn't thinking "Oh no! I did something wrong!" He is thinking, "Oh no! There's that mad face and I'm going to get yelled at!" You cannot explain to him why you are yelling at him.

Dog are dogs and they will act like dogs, which includes eating disgusting things off the ground, licking themselves in the center of the room when you have company and drinking from the toilet bowl. This all makes perfect sense to a dog. The toilet bowl offers a cool and fresh source of water. Why not take advantage of it? Perhaps the dog wonders why you eliminate in their water bowl.

It's great when dogs are included as members of the family, but they should not be expected to act like other members of the family. You cannot explain to them the difference between right and wrong. Understanding this allows your dog to be a dog and the two of you a better and stronger relationship.

Tip of the week: Learn to think like a dog. A good dog training class explains why dogs behave the way they do and how to condition them into your family's lifestyle.

Canine Companion conducts dog training classes in Fort Wayne, Huntington and surrounding communities and behavior consulting nationwide. Along with their combined 30 years experience and endorsement by national organizations, the lead trainers are graduates of Purdue University's DOGS! Program and have earned the title of Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.