The Human Dog
The number one biggest mistake dog owners can make with their dogs is to treat them like humans.
The human race is such a kind, compassionate species that we tend to look at our canine companions as little humans. When in reality, they are canines and have a very different thought process. This is what differentiates mankind from other species in pack societies; there must be a specific order, from the leader on down to the last follower. Everyone has a place. The leaders are the strength of the pack. The followers need the leader to guide them. This primal instinct keeps the pack secure and happy.
Dogs instinctually need rules they must follow, and limits to what they are allowed to do. When dogs live with humans, the humans become the dog's pack. For the relationship to succeed, humans must become the dogs pack leader. The mistake is made when the humans in the pack only give the dog love, and the other factors are overlooked. To a dog, constant affection without rules and limits goes against every grain in a dog's instinct, as affectionate love is a human trait, not a canine trait. Affection does not make dogs happy, satisfying their instincts make them happy. You need to provide a proper emotional stability in order to achieve this, and showing you have an orderly pack with rules to follow is what the dog needs. Giving your dog affection is important for the human, and enjoyed by the dog, but must be done at the correct time.
A dog is an animal and does not possess the same reasoning skills as humans. They do have emotions, but they are simple creatures with instincts, and their emotions lack the complex thought process. They feel joy when they know you are pleased, they feel sad when someone dies. However, they do not premeditate; do not plan ahead. They live for whatever is happening at the moment.
Lets say for example that you are upset over something that has happened in your life. Your dog will know you are upset, but they will not know why. For example, they are not going to reason out in their head that your boyfriend just broke up with you. Their interpretation of you will be that you have unstable energy and see you as weak.
On the flip side, when a human shares its affection with a dog who is in any other state of mind but a calm, submissive one, (for example aggression, obsession, shyness, skittishness, fear or hyper activeness and so on...) and you give them a hug or pat them on the head and tell them it is ok, it is comforting to the human, but feeds into that state of mind for the dog making it more intense. You are telling the dog it is ok to feel that way. While a human feels they are comforting a dog, the dog sees it as the human being weak, as you are not providing strong energy the dog can feed from. If your dog has a traumatic experience and you show them affection during that time trying to comfort them, rather than letting them work it out in their own mind and being a strong leader they can feed from, you leave them stuck in that state of mind. Later when your dog faces this traumatic situation again, you then comfort the dog, intensifying the situation even more. You are creating the problem. Dogs do not see comfort and affection in the same way we humans see it. Dogs are always looking for a strong stable being to feed from.
On the same note: When a dog is constantly leaning on you, putting his paw on you, using his nose to make you pet them, and always feeling the need to be touching you in some way, this is not your dog loving you, it is your dog displaying dominant behaviors. In the dog world, space is respect. A dog that is constantly nudging you and leaning on you, is not only disrespecting you, they are being the alpha dog.
Here is an example of humans giving a dog affection at the wrong time. This is a result of many years of being treated like a human. The dog is terrified of the thunder and fireworks she hears outside. This dog is in a weak state of mind. The humans are comforting the dog in a way humans understand, but not in a way a dog can understand. The comfort means two different things to the human and the dog. The dog sees it as everyone around her being weaker than she is. For a dog to be in a weak state of mind, then be surrounded by pack members who are in an even weaker state of mind, well this really messes up a dogs psyche and intensifies their fear. Keep in mind how the humans feel they are comforting, and how the dog's instincts do not see it that way
This also holds true for dogs who have medical issues. For example; if a dog has an operation and you feel sorry for the dog, at a time in the dog's life when it needs a strong pack leader more than ever to feed from, you are instead becoming weaker in the dogs mind.
If you show weakness to your dog, the dog instinctually, in his own head, takes over the role of leader whether he wants the role or not, because there must be a strong leader and an order in a dog's pack. Humans often give the dog mixed leadership signals, which throws the dog off balance, confusing his psyche, causing many of the psychological/behavioral problems we see in dogs today. Mental tension and energy build up within the dog, which lead to many of your common canine misbehaviors. Eliminating in the house, obsessive behaviors, neurotic behaviors, chewing on themselves, being overly excited, barking excessively, whining, not following their owners commands, not coming when called, running off, getting into the trash, destroying things in the house, obsessively digging, chewing the furniture, tail chasing, scratching, aggression towards other dogs, animals, or humans, snapping, biting, growling, and becoming just plain old uncontrollable (just to name a few). You name it-- we can, more likely than not, trace your problem back to the way you treat your dog. In some cases it starts to appear the dog is just nuts, or psycho, and there is nothing one can do about it.
This is also the number one cause of separation anxiety. In a pack, the leader is allowed to leave, however, the followers never leave the leader. If your dog is instinctually seeing you as their follower and you leave them, it causes so much mental anguish that a dog often takes it out on your house or themselves.
Taking your dog for a walk is an important ritual in keeping your dog mentally stable. Dog's are walkers/travelers by instinct. Packs of dogs get up in the morning and walk. Simply having a large back yard is not going to satisfy this instinct in your dog. To your dog, your back yard is like a large cage, to where they are trapped. For a dog to be mentally stable, you as an owner must take your dog for daily walks to release not only physical energy, but also mental. The proper way to walk a dog is the dog walking either beside you or behind you, never in front of you. This may seem petty in a humans mind, however it means a lot in a dogs mind. Instinct tells a dog that the leader goes first. The dog is not to sniff the ground and relieve themselves where they please. They are to concentrate on their handler while walking. The person walking the dog decides when the dog is allowed to sniff or pee, not the dog. A lack of exercise and the mental energy a proper walk releases can cause many behavioral problems in a dog. Getting a dog to walk properly on a lead is not as hard as it may seem, yes, even for your own dog(s).
Dogs pick up on the energy of their humans. They can tell if you are hyper, nervous, scared, or calm. You will be able to communicate successfully with your dog if you use your body’s energy rather than excited words. For example, if your dog does something wrong and you yell and scream at the dog or beat the dog it confuses the dog. This is not the way a pack leader corrects his followers. However, if you approach your dog in a very self-assured and calm manner to correct the dog at the moment he is doing the unwanted behavior with an assertive touch to their neck... this they understand, because you are mimicking the way dogs correct one another, with calm, self-assured body language. If you want your dog to do or stop doing something, you need to first convince yourself it will happen. Stay calm and self-assured. Your dog will pick up on your emotion. Remember, the dog must be doing the deed at the moment of correction in order for you to successfully communicate.
We humans have successfully domesticated the dog, but we will never be able to de-animalize a dog and remove their natural instinct. We cannot change a dog into having human characteristics. Sure, we can pretend we can, and satisfy our human wants. However this is where your behavior problems arise. While we think we are treating a dog in such a way that will make them happy, we are in fact doing just the opposite. By not satisfying a dogs natural instincts we create confused and unhappy dogs. To happily coexist with mans best friend, we need to understand our fellow canines and satisfy THEM, rather than only satisfying ourselves.
Dogs do not live in the past or the future, as humans do. They live for the moment. Because a dog lives in the present, and not in the past or future, it is much easier to rehabilitate a dog than it is a human. If you begin treating your dog in a very self-assured manner, giving love to them at the right times, and correcting your dog at the right moments, you can change your dog into a happy and mentally stable dog. The more stable your dog is, the more calm and submissive he will become and the more you can give them affectionate love. It's a "win-win" situation.
As the saying goes, "Treat your dog like a human and he'll treat you like a dog!"