Dogs behave extremely flexibly – that’s why we can keep them in our homes and take them to cafes on weekends. Still, there are ways that evolution has not prepared dogs for the challenges of life in our world, and puppies must learn to deal with them.
These are some of the things we do to understand.
1. We leave them alone
As born celebrities, dogs make friends easily. Puppies are very interested in spending time with other dogs, people, and all species willing to interact with them socially. They play, rest, explore, and usually travel with society. Nevertheless, we often leave dogs alone: at home, in kennels or in the veterinary clinic.
In these situations, naive dogs cannot be sure that we will ever return to pick them up. Only after the experience are they likely to expect a reunion, and even then their experience depends on the context.
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At home we can try to enforce dog-free zones. Of course, many dogs protest. How can they stay with their (human) social group when they are separated behind impenetrable barriers (doors)? This explains why dogs so often request to be let inside when their human family is there, and why those in distress due to separation can often find comfort when inside.
2. We are visually motivated
Dogs live in an olfactory world, while ours is primarily visual. While televisions can provide a visual feast for people, parks and beaches are olfactory banquets for dogs.
An added challenge is getting dogs moving while examining the world, while we often sit still. They may not enjoy the indolence we enjoy in front of a noisy, blinking light box.
3. We change our shape and our smell
Shoes, coats, wallets, briefcases, bags, and suitcases: countless odors cling to these items after we take them to shops and workplaces and then back to our dogs. Cleaning products, soaps, deodorants, and shampoos also change the scents our dogs are used to.
Towels, hats and bags change our shape when we use them. And when we put them on, sweaters and coats change our visual outlines and can catch dogs that don’t know.
Dogs change their coat at least once a year. In contrast, we change our outer cladding every day. This means that the smells we carry are changing far more than dogs expected.
In their olfactory world, dogs must find it puzzling to encounter our ever-changing smells, especially a species that uses scent to identify familiar people and intruders.
4. We like to hug
How humans use their front legs is in sharp contrast to what dogs do. We can use them to carry large objects that a dog would have to pull, but also to hold each other and show affection.
Dogs grip each other loosely in wrestling, mating, and fighting. Being held down by another dog hinders a quick escape. How are puppies supposed to know what a hug from a human means when this behavior from a dog could be threatening?
5. We don’t want to be bitten
Play fights are fun for many puppies and help them bond with other dogs. But they need to monitor the behavior of other dogs in game fights and know when they have overused their tiny, razor-sharp teeth.
Humans are much more prone to pain from playful puppy jaws than other dogs, and this is how we can react negatively to their attempts to fight us.
Dogs interact with objects almost exclusively with their snouts. And for feeding, they use their jaws, teeth and tongue. Dogs “mouth” other dogs while playing, express affection and communicate everything from “more” to “please don’t” to “back!”. So they naturally try to use their mouths when communicating with us and wonder how often we offend each other.
6. We don’t eat food from the trash can
Dogs are opportunists who naturally acquire food wherever they can find it. In contrast, we present them with food in their own dishes.
Puppies must be puzzled by our reaction when we find them snacking from benches and tables, in lunch boxes, and in kitchen containers. We shouldn’t be surprised if dogs dig up food that we’ve left in a place they can access.
7. We share territories
We visit other dogs ‘areas, bring back their smells and allow unfamiliar human and dog visitors to enter our dogs’ home. Dogs have not evolved to accept such interference and threats to their safety and resources.
We shouldn’t be surprised if our dogs treat visitors with suspicion or if our dogs are treated hostile when we bring them home to others.
8. We use our hands a lot
Sometimes our hands deliver groceries, scratches, massages, and toys. In other cases, they restrain dogs, cut nails, administer ointments or tablets, and groom them with hair-pulling brushes and combs.
No wonder some dogs fear the human hand when it moves around them. We can make it easier for dogs to engage in many types of hand-related activities if we train them to cooperate with rewards.
But people often misunderstand their fear and may even greet it with violence, which exacerbates the problem. Hand-shy dogs can easily become defensive and find their way into pounds and shelters, where life expectancy for tongs and biters is poor.
Overall, dogs show a remarkable ability to adapt to the puzzles we throw at them. Her behavioral flexibility offers us lessons in resilience and how to live simply and socially. Our challenge is to understand the lack of guile and malice in everything they do.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.