Certified dog training and behavior solutions in North Georgia.

A Jack Russell Terrier calmly settled. Isn’t she beautiful?

Behavior change for the two-legged animal

Question: My highly sensitive puppy mill rescue reacts fearfully when I reprimand my other dog or when I’m irritated about something not even related to her. How can I get her to understand that those situations are no threat to her?

That’s a paraphrase of a question I received in person yesterday from a man who loves his dogs and clearly wants them to be happy and comfortable in his presence. I only had time to give the pithy answer–stop fussing and cussing–which I did not give because how unhelpful is that? What I did was ask him more questions and send some tips and links in an email later.

To put it simplistically, dogs are about as intelligent as an average two-year-old child, according to researcher Stanley Coren and others. They have little ability for abstract thought. Fortunately for them, they do not stare out the window, ruminating upon moral and philosophical dilemmas. They stare out the window scanning for movement of potential prey or other material objects of interest. They are practical, survival-oriented beings who think in terms of threat/no threat and food/not food. (Also like a two-year-old human, “not food” does not preclude consumption!) It’s our job as adults to communicate with dogs (and toddlers) at their level of understanding.

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Smart cookies

A black nose pokes into my home office door followed by big, charcoal blue ears over liquid brown eyes. Belle steps halfway into the room, cocks her head, and softly whimpers. She knows I can’t resist her charm. “Uh huh,” I mumble, “it’s past time for bed. Just need to finish this one . . . .” She wags her charcoal blue nubbin of a tail and stares at me, melting my resolve. Maybe that one thing can wait until morning. She sweetly cocks her head again. That’s it, I’m done.

My dog reminding me to go to bed when I stay up too late is a side effect from positive reinforcement training and has now been reinforced as a desirable behavior itself. This happy accident began with a frustrating situation . . . .

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Communication gap

A rock solid belief of mine was broken along with my heart a few months ago. Though the experience centered around dog training, I only spoke about the details to my most intimate friend and kept to myself how it continued to affect me emotionally and physically. I thought posting about it publicly would cost me clients, who would reject me in disgust for being too soft and sensitive and not agreeing to the tenets of our anthropocentric domination culture. But then I thought price-shoppers will never read this. My services are most useful to those who will at least entertain the idea that dogs are thinking, feeling beings whose bodies and brains are not ours to own, but to form conscious partnerships with for mutual benefit.

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