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The Fundamentals of Dog Psychology and How They Learn

The number one problem I see in families that have dog problems is that they want to believe that their dog is a furry little person. They seem smart. They seem aware. They seem empathetic. And in some ways they are all three.

But, underneath any clever looks and happy behaviours, your dog is a dog - bred to think like a dog and react naturally, the same as an animal would.

This means they are built on instinct and rather than expecting them to change for us, we need to change for them.

How a Dog Thinks

Dogs think in terms of their instincts. That means they need to be fed, they need a place to sleep, and they need a strong pack that will help keep them safe, which in turn means they need a strong pack leader who will guide them and provide that protection.

Your goal as a dog owner is to provide the alpha pack leadership your dog is constantly seeking and ensure that they are never left to fend for themselves. Another important factor in dog thinking is that they do not think in words.

While a dog may eventually learn to respond to a command, they do not necessarily understand the word - not in the same way that we do. Dogs are incapable of thinking in words, with the meaning attached to them. Rather, they think in terms of many things.

For the most part, they will associate actions with actions, largely through body language. Most dogs will also be able to pick up single word commands. In fact, the odds are that with every sentence you say to your dog, they pick out a single word to follow.

If you regularly say "would you like your dinner", you could shorten that to just "dinner" with a friendly tone of voice and they would respond just the same.

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Learning to Think Like Your Dog

What all of this means is that you need to learn how your dog thinks and then respond in turn. Your dog does not think in terms of words and ideas. They think in actions and body language. The tone of your voice and the way you hold yourself will always have a bigger impact than what you actually say.

By understanding that your dog thinks in images and actions you can also start to affect their behaviours more readily. For instance, a dog that is greeted each day when you and your spouse return home will quickly start to expect that greeting.

They will get excited and ready for your return. The day you don't return as expected - either because of traffic or a late day at work - they will start to grow anxious as the scene replays in their mind. This can lead to dog seperation anxiety.

Much of what a dog thinks and prepares for comes in the form of expectations based on past actions. What you do will ingrain in the dog's mind and if you don't perform that in a certain instance, it can lead to anxiety.

It is the reason why you are encouraged to not greet your dog immediately when you return home - the dog will then stop associating that positive reaction with a specific time and return.

By controlling the perceptions of your dog and when they will receive things like food, walks, and attention, you can reduce the frustration and anxiety they feel. You can also stop expecting them to behave as a human being would and accept the fact that they are merely dogs.

Wonderful, well behaved, loving dogs. But, dogs nonetheless.

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