We all know that the key to a good relationship is good communication. Understanding where the other person is coming from, how they think, how they feel. What does the world look like through another person’s eyes?
The same holds true of our relationships with our non-human friends. We work hard to get our canine friends to understand what we are saying. To teach them manners to succeed in a human world. To show them how much we love them in the ways that make sense to us. It’s equally important for us to work hard to understand their perspective and what they’re saying to us.
What is it like to be a dog in a human world? Have you really thought about it? I know one trainer who asks her human students to put a GoPro camera on their dog’s collar for a day. Their assignment is to review the tape and then write down their observations. I love this idea because it really puts you in your dog’s paws, so to speak. How do they physically experience the world around them? I bet you’d be surprised!
I don’t know what it’s like to be a dog. But I do know what it is like to be a foreigner living in another country where the customs are different, you trip over unwritten rules all the time, and you don’t speak the language or even read the same alphabet. I lived in Hong Kong, China, for 3 years. I was afraid for the first few years to leave the downtown area (where people spoke English) and venture out to the parts of the city where the signs were in Chinese characters and I knew I couldn’t communicate. When I think about that now, I realize that is what happens to a puppy when he leaves his Mom and siblings to go to a new human home. It is understandable to be afraid and timid at least some of the time. It’s like being dropped in a new country with no translator!
Dogs don’t get a rule book when they come to live with us. They often learn human rules by breaking them, and that’s tough! At the same time, we often don’t respect their rules or their culture. For example, it’s rude for a dog to look another dog directly in the eye when they meet. Yet we look dogs we don’t know in the eye all the time and expect them to respond well. It isn’t rude to sniff a butt if you’re a dog, but even when the other dog doesn’t mind the people often say “stop it.” Why?? We sometimes try to make our dogs live by our rules, even when they aren’t so important.
Gunny would like you to remember that your dog has her own perspective and feelings about the world. You adapting a bit to her, not always asking her to adapt to your world, will go a long way to improving your relationship and understanding of each other. Give it a try! You may be surprised at what a difference it makes.