top of page

The Canine Psyche

Articles on dog training abound. Numerous national publications exist that are entirely about the hunting breeds. Many others, including this one, dedicate a portion of their space to articles on hunting dogs. Most of what is written concentrates on the techniques and procedures involved in teaching commands in the yard and field. For the most part this is good, but there may be too much emphasis on the elaborate techniques and the various tools and procedures used to instill a proper response, and not enough devoted to reading your dog, learning why it does what it does, and learning to use that knowledge to develop a good canine citizen and companion gun dog, in other words learning to understand and use the canine psyche.

Many owners never give the pup's thought process any consideration, and simply attempt to impose their will onto the dog. Others fall prey to popular myths that use human psychology to explain canine behavior. Dogs are not human, and their brains are not wired the way human's brains are. Yes, they are social animals, and properly interpreted that fact can be used to the owner's benefit. However, we must first understand that at the heart of canine behavior is the tendency to dominate or be dominated. It is not as harsh as it may sound. To physically dominate is to possess the ability to lead the pack. In the wild the contest for physical domination would be ongoing. Through interpretation of a pup's behavior and proper response to it we can eliminate that daily struggle, and in a natural fashion, make ourselves dominant for the duration of our relationship with our canine companion. This does not mean brutalizing your dog. To the contrary regular obedience training and the alpha roll can go a long way toward accomplishing this goal. Even more basic is to understand and practice the principle that the owner/handler makes all decisions. For example, a pup does not get to decide whether or not to jump, we do. A pup does not decide whether to chew furniture or our toes, we do. A pup does not set to decide whether to move for us to enter a doorway pup is blocking, we do. You get the idea!

One of the most common and problematic myths is that dogs do things to please us, or worse, to displease us. No they don't, they are not wired that way. Dogs do things to please themselves, and because they can. If it feels good they want to do it, if not they avoid it. At the base of all training we must make behaviors we find undesirable uncomfortable enough for our dog that it does not do them because they are no longer pleasing. Likewise, behaviors we want to instill in our dog need to be rewarded enough to make them pleasing for our dog. Once the lesson is learned, Rover does not sit to please us, rather to receive the reward that makes the behavior pleasing to the dog. How much negative or positive reinforcement to use is dependent upon the breed and individual dog. What may deter one individual from chasing deer, may be simply ignored by another. This is where learning to read your dog is critical. Too much correction may cower a dog and too little may result in a misbehaved monster.

When Rover wags his tail, jumps on you and licks your face, it is not because he loves you. It is because he can. Furthermore, it shows pup does not respect your authority. If pup does not respect your authority you can forget controlling it in the field. Being too lenient or too harsh will result in a failed relationship because pup neither respects nor trusts its owner.

I often use the phrase "reassuring firmness" when training owners how to approach their dog. Find the appropriate level of firmness for your breed and individual then stay even when handling your dog. Do not fluctuate from coddling to anger or frustration. Stay even! Pup will know what to expect from you, trust you, and respond to your handling.

What is perhaps even more significant is that the dog that has been properly trained knows its place and clearly understands the parameters of allowable behavior will be a happier, more self-assured individual simply because it is not always butting heads with human companions, and being corrected for doing so .It will take the path of least resistance, in other words, do what brings pleasure to itself. Ultimately, understanding how and why your dog thinks and responds to stimuli will help you shape it into a good citizen around the house and a competent performer in the field.

bottom of page