I have read so much about living with dogs and the predominant theme is often the fact that we need to take the time to learn as much about them as possible!
Training us to understand them is probably more important than training them to understand us! If we can understand their thinking, and if we can then put ourselves in their situation, then so much of their world suddenly starts to make sense. Given that Ray is part of our family, shouldn’t trying to understand each other be our mutual responsibility? Isn’t working together the perfect way to develop a relationship?
Little things like the dog lives pretty much in “the moment”. This was important for me to understand because if Ray did something deserving of a reward, and I took 5 minutes to get that reward to him, then he would likely relate the reward to the last thing he did which may not have been the intent! A typical example would be if Ray grabbed on to something he shouldn’t and I say “leave it”. He drops the object and,while waiting for me to produce a reward, he sits. I give him his treat with a “Good boy Ray. Good leave it.” He got his treat for the last thing he did which was to sit! At least that is the way he might see it.
Another perspective that I found interesting was his view of people relative to size. To him, people are about 4 times his height and at least twice his weight. If I was walking along minding my own business and I suddenly saw a 25ft person probably weighing around 350lbs coming towards me, I might be a little concerned. If that person stopped right in front of me, bent over and moved a huge hand towards me, I would become very concerned. If I suddenly saw that huge hand go out of sight over my head, I would probably move away very fast ………….. but then I am not on a leash! When leashed Ray becomes aggressive as a result of a stranger trying to pat his head, it suddenly becomes very understandable.
I come across numerous dogs on our walks who see Ray and start barking. Then comes the amusing dialogue “How many times have I told you not to bark at other dogs” or “You know that’s not a nice thing to do” etc. Contrary to what some people may choose to believe, I really don’t think the barking dog has any idea of what the owner is saying. All it hears is a series of vocal tones, and sees body language which it tries to make sense of! It is probably going to conclude nothing more than something is wrong, without knowing exactly what. The greater probability is that the barking dog is now so focused on Ray that its owner probably doesn’t exist in its world at that moment.
Barking dogs have also generated very loud “Shut up!” or “Stop that” responses. As it was explained to me, shouting at a dog may generate quite the opposite response to what you would expect. Given that Ray is not tuned in to the finer points of the English language, shouting (by my definition) could easily become barking (by his definition). Shouting at a dog to stop it barking is probably futile because it sees you doing the same as him! “Great ………….. we can both bark together and make that big dog go away”!
We are so fortunate with Ray because he understands that we need to learn about him. In fact he was so supportive of us learning about him, that he decided to read up on what the next training class was going to include. He wanted to be sure that there would be no surprises for his new Mom and Dad, and that he knew what would be expected of him.
He seemed generally unconcerned with the training session. He watched everything that was going on and performed quite well on request. The only issue he was not prepared for was when Melissa (trainer at OMHS) starting paying attention, and giving treats to, other dogs! He vocalized his displeasure quite clearly.
However, at the end of an educational couple of hours, I think our Ray was proud of us for taking the trouble to learn more about him, and for bringing him along to assist! But then, shouldn’t trying to understand each other be our mutual responsibility? Isn’t working together the perfect way to develop a relationship?