Old Trainer

The Old Trainer: Emotions can run wild

Dear Old Trainer: Bo, my Boxer puppy, chewed up my shoe the other day. When I scolded him he acted like his paw was hurt. A few weeks ago he got his paw caught in the leash and I petted him when he held it up for me. I had no idea he remembered and that he had such acting ability. Is this unusual?

Surprised--Livingston, California.

A: Dogs are great thespians, Surprised. When they want to, they can outdo Redd Foxx faking a heart attack on "Sanford and Son."

They are also master manipulators. A dog remembers what got him petted and praised, and will pull out the same stunt when he is in trouble.

Dogs have a wide range of emotions in their makeup, more than any animal except the human animal. They can display anger, happiness, sadness, silliness, fakery, boredom, anxiety, loneliness, grumpiness, jealousy, love, fear, bravery, and a few dozen others.

It is one of the reasons we find them so loveable.

Dear Old Trainer: Blue, my Blue Heeler, is very well trained, but he refuses to obey my girlfriend. He is friendly with her and likes her, but when she gives him an order he looks at her and ignores the order. Why?

Puzzled--Flagstaff, Arizona

A: The answer lies in the basics of canine psychology, Puzzled. Dogs are pack animals and their behavior is based on rules of pack protocol ingrained in their DNA.

Blue has nothing against your girlfriend, he just considers that she ranks below him in the pack and isn't about to take orders from a lower ranking member of the pack.

It is common behavior that occurs in every family that has a dog. When a dog joins a family they evaluate the family -- their new pack -- and figure out their place in the pack. They decide who the leader is and obey the leader. They may obey other family members who they decide outrank them. They may decide to be the leader of the pack if there is a vacuum at the top. They may decide that everyone outranks them.

Every dog owner should get a copy of the DVD, "Wolves At Our Door." It is a documentary of a family of wolves that demonstrates pack psychology better than any other example I have seen. It will help anyone understand their canine pal much better.

Blue is just being a dog. Merely telling him that your girlfriend outranks him in the pack is not going to convince him. (For more on canine psychology see next letter).

Dear Old Trainer: My husband and I just added a 1-year old female mutt, Ethel, to go with our 5-year old mutt, Fred. Fred is bigger, but Ethel insists on going out the door first, getting in the car first, and sitting closer to me. She bosses Fred around, but he doesn't seem to mind. They play all the time, sleep next to each other, and are always together, but Fred has been here longer, and I hate to see him get second place. What should I do?

Upset--Merced, California.

A: Not a thing, Upset.

Fred and Ethel have come to their own accommodation based on pack psychology. The order of going in and out a door and placement in relation to the leader of the pack are two very important pack considerations among canines. There are many others, and the dogs decide them on their own, no matter how the human wants them to interact.

As you point out, Fred is happy and loves his new pal. Stop worrying and pat yourself on the back for getting Fred such a good canine companion.

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