It’s music to my ears when clients tell me, “It’s really we humans who need the training.” Of course we do train dogs for the skills needed to get along peacefully in human society. But if humans don’t understand how their dogs process information and adjust their own behavior, nothing is going to change after I leave.
The human perspective needed for living peacefully with dogs begins with acknowledging that dogs are inherently high-maintenance. This isn’t a flaw or a deficit, just a by-product of evolution. Much of what we adore about dogs coincides with their dependence on us to provide for virtually all their needs.
As they evolved from wolves, dogs became increasingly attuned to living near, understanding, and cooperating with prehistoric humans. Now dogs range from tiny teacup breeds like Yorkshire Terriers and Pomeranians to enormous Mastiffs and Great Danes. They can run agility courses, sniff out bombs, drugs, cancer, and household pests, warn us of danger, chase and subdue criminals, find lost possessions and people, assist with chores, herd cattle, and provide emotional support – just for starters!
Of all animals, none can relate with humans nearly as well as dogs. Even our closest primate relatives (such as chimpanzees and bonobos) can’t communicate with us at the same level of fluency as dogs can. The trade off for this glorious set of skills is that dogs need a generous amount of our time and attention, LOTS of physical and mental exercise, and opportunities to do “dog activities” like sniffing, chasing, digging, romping, problem solving, and bonding with people and other dogs – all the dog-type stuff that provides a sense of control over their environment and a chance just to be themselves.
These requirements aren’t optional, and our dogs’ efforts to obtain them aren’t rebellious or attempts to usurp “alpha status.” Adopting a dog is a decision to enter into a high maintenance relationship that requires a LOT of time and effort on our parts. Sure, it can be tiring and even challenging at times, but that’s the nature of rewarding relationships, and the rewards to be had from a thoughtful, committed relationship with our dogs are priceless!