Dispelling Myths

Different species of animals are completely attuned to the way we view them and treat them, and they generally have clear feeling, preferences and opinions. Once, I accompanied some new friends to Northern Thailand to spend a few days with the local tribes. I was excited as I was lifted up towards the wicker basket for my first elephant ride. I loved sitting high up on the elephant's back, but while I was observing the exotic insects that clung to the tall tree branches, my elephant suddenly raised his trunk above his head, pointed it at me and sneezed, showering me in elephant snot. He did this over and over again—expressing just what he felt and thought about a strange tourist riding on his back. You can bet I heard and felt it loud and clear!

Training dogs without abuse and pain requires an owner to better understand their underlying nature and motivations. In order to do this, we must dispel two popular myths. The first is that dogs don't have feelings. However elementary this may sound, you would be shocked to know how many people don't realize that dogs have a complete range of emotions, which are very similar to those of toddlers. Dogs feel loss, joy, and disappointment, they get obsessed, and they love surprises and games. Although they are quick to forgive, they will remember things. Every time Clyde hears a motorcycle, his ears go down and he runs to hide in a corner. It's obvious that something in his past taught him that the sight and sound of motorcycles are negative or dangerous.

The second myth is that dogs will do anything to please their owners. The truth is that dogs will do anything to please themselves. If these things also please their owners, it's just icing on the cake. After working with thousands of dogs over many years, I have seen that the driving force behind any dog's behavior is an association with pain and pleasure. If you understand and align your needs with his needs, then he will do anything to please you. Just like humans, a dog will always seek pleasure and try to avoid pain.

Sometimes, the divide between what humans and dogs find pleasurable is vast. You wouldn't roll against a dead animal's rotting corpse for any amount of money, right? But to a dog, a smelly carcass is like Chanel No. 5. This seems impossible (and disgusting), but the truth is, she's having a fabulous time, and stopping feels like a bummer. I'm not suggesting you allow your dog to roll around in manure and animal cadavers just because she likes it. I am suggesting that if you want her to stop what she considers a pleasurable behavior, you'll have to find something even more enticing with which to distract her. It's up to you as a responsible dog owner to understand her needs and desires as a dog, and to provide her with healthy outlets.


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