Humans and dogs have a lot in common on a biological level. Both humans and dogs are highly social mammals that naturally live in small units, usually made up of their family members. However, to truly understand a dog, you need to know what you have in common with them, and what you don’t.
What We Have In Common
Humans and dogs both need the same necessary things to stay healthy and happy: food, water, warmth, sleep, exercise, and socialization.
For example, when a dog is cold, they’ll shiver and look for a blanket to climb under, just like a human. When a dog doesn’t socialize with others for an extended period, they become stressed, paranoid, and antisocial, just like a human that has been alone for too long. When they’re happy, they make noise and jump around. When they’re sad or upset, they lie down and “cry,” in the form of gentle whining. On a basic emotional level, dogs and humans react to many things the same way.
…And What We Don’t
In other ways, dogs and humans are very different. Sometimes this is hard to see because we do seem to have so much in common with dogs. However, humans will often put human personalities onto animals.
For example, imagine that you go to visit a friend’s house with your dog. While you’re there, your dog pees all over an expensive rug.
When faced with this situation, some people would decide to punish the dog when they return home, perhaps by putting them in their crate for a time. Any dog trainer will tell you that this is a huge mistake.
Why? Because by the time you’ve gotten home, your dog has already forgotten about peeing on the rug. While grounding a child for something they did at school might make sense for a human, a dog won’t even understand that they’re being punished. From their point of view, you’re just putting them in a crate for no reason.
This is one of the reasons that any negative reinforcement–usually by giving a loud, firm “No!”–must be done at the moment that the dog does the bad thing–in this case, peeing on the carpet. Dogs live in the moment, and they’re not self-conscious of the things they do in the same way that humans are. Chances are, the dog wasn’t thinking about anything when they peed on the rug. They had to go, so they did–very little thought required.
But why did they go on the expensive rug? If they had to pee, why didn’t they pee on the hardwood floor?
Well, it probably won’t surprise you to know that dogs don’t understand abstract concepts. Dogs don’t understand money, or jobs, or school. Unless you teach them not to, they have no idea why it’s terrible to strew garbage all over your living room. This is why you should never give your dog old shoes to chew on: A dog can’t tell the difference between an old pair of shoes and a new pair of shoes.
You have to remember that these differences exist if you want to have a successful experience with a dog, whether your own or someone else’s. Compared to other animals, humans and dogs communicate exceptionally well. All you need to do is understand where they’re coming from.