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#2 – What is that dog thinking?

By Christy Paxton – DogLife Skills Instructor, Kindness Specialist

1 in a series of 10 Articles

This is a continuation of my series “The Top 10 Training Traps and How to Avoid Them.”

TRAP #2:

You believe your dog thinks like you do, so you interpret her behavior as if she were human. This leads you to misunderstanding your dog and reacting incorrectly to what she does. Training doomed!


Dogs do not think like us. In fact:

• Dogs don’t share our value system (which means they have no right/wrong, good/bad).

• They are incapable of guilt (if there is no right/wrong, there is no reason to feel guilty*)

• They don’t do things just to make you mad, or to exact revenge.

This is how your dogs think: “I want that. How do I get it?” That is their entire agenda! If you don’t tell them how they can get it, they will try to figure it out on their own, producing many different behaviors, not all of them good!
ESCAPE THE TRAP: Become the information provider your dog really needs — tell her how she can get the things she wants (food, attention, your lap, the ball, outside, etc.). Show her what to do. Keep it light; make it a game. Give her what she wants as soon as she gives you what you want (e.g. stops jumping, gets attention; sits, door opens; lies quietly while you eat, gets the plate after). Then she doesn’t have to experiment on her own. Less stress, more success!


Christy Paxton is the owner of Hand in Paw: Rewards-based Training for You and Your Dog, based in Brook Park.


*Helpful Side Note: The “guilty look” you see when you are sure your dog knows she’s “done something wrong” is actually a look that says “I don’t want any trouble.” Your dog has associated the presence of both you and the torn cushion/chewed shoe/pee on the floor with a negative experience, and she is expressing anxiety and a desire to avoid conflict. She will do this even before you see what she’s done because a pattern has already been established (i.e. you have punished her/expressed dissatisfaction for this before). But here’s the kicker: she cannot make the connection that the negative thing won’t happen if she doesn’t tear the cushion, chew the shoe or pee on the floor. So punishing her after it’s happened does no good at all — and may make her fearful of you. Don’t do it! 

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