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Good Owners, Great Dogs
By Sarah Wilson Brian Kilcommons
Warner BooksCopyright © 1992 Brian Kilcommons
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy a Dog?
Dogs give and receive love unconditionally. They never say "I need my space" or "I'm not ready for a commitment." It is a nonjudgmental, completely accepting relationship. Here you are loved for who you are, not how much weight you've gained or lost, the current status of your bank account, or your popularity.
Dogs do not grow up and move out. They are with you until the end of their lives. Waking with you each morning and lying nearby at night, they offer a sense of security and warmth for child and adult alike.
The soft head that nudges your hand when life is too depressing, a happy bark that suggests a quick game outside, the warm tongue that licks your face when you cry-dogs soothe our souls and enrich our lives. Science is now confirming what pet lovers have known for years: pets make us feel better. We live longer and better with them by our sides. When we touch them, our heartbeat slows, our body relaxes: we are happy.
You are the most special person in your dog's life; his world revolves around you. If you have never owned a dog before, the experience will change your life. You will have, ready at all times, a playmate and companion, guardian and friend. With your dog you can be yourself in complete safety, knowing that this animal adores you without reservation or opinion, thinking you the best in the whole world.
And for all this dogs ask little in return. They require basic physical care that they cannot do for themselves. Grooming, medical attention, a good diet and shelter. But you can give all this and still not give what the dog needs most-your love, attention and understanding. That is what this book is all about-teaching you how to understand and communicate with this wonderful species so that the life you share with your dog is as positive, fun and tension free as possible. Whether you are selecting a companion, raising your pup, training your dog or looking for a solution to a behavior problem, we will cover it all in simple, commonsense and effective ways.
With their unquestioning devotion comes obligation. Caring for a dog is a commitment, one of the first many of us make in our lives. Often the training ground for parenthood, dogs allow us to practice the skills of caring for another living being before a child arrives. The emotions of puppy owners and new parents are not so very different-protection, concern, confusion, frustration, all wrapped in an overwhelming love. And like an infant, animals too are innocent and trusting. We owe them our highest selves, not our upset, anger or impatience.
Why a dog? In short, to love and be loved.
The apartment is stunning. Antiques and old tapestries line the hall. The living room is full of fresh flowers. Everything is perfect, except the pale blue rug that is covered with urine stains. Mrs. H., tall, coiffed and perfectly dressed, sits to my right. The beautifully groomed Maltese hops from the couch to her lap and back. "I've tried everything," Mrs. H. begins. "I've scolded him, shown it to him, tied him near it-nothing works. Someone told me to clean it up with white vinegar and then rub the vinegar on his nose. Now he runs away from me if I try to catch him. He's so sweet. I just adore him, but he's being so spiteful." Her voice trails off.
"It's not a matter of spite," I explain. "He does not know what you want."
"Oh, yes, he does. He's so guilty when I find a spot. He runs under the couch and won't come out."
"It's not guilt," I explain. "He knows you're angry, but that does not mean he knows what he did wrong.
"It's a matter of teaching. Scolding him, punishing him after the fact, isolating or hitting him does not tell him anything about what he should have done. Just because you tell him you hate urine on the rug does not mean he understands that when he has the urge to pee, he should run back to his papers. Those are two completely different thoughts. It's time we taught him what you want him to do."
Our two species, dogs and humans, have adored each other for centuries. Yet miscommunication between us is common. Dogs do not arrive in your home with instructions. As for us, I believe we are a mystery to them. To live together happily, I suggest you learn the basics of how Canis familiaris thinks.
First of all, dogs are social. In the wild they live in tight-knit groups called packs. They hunt, live and raise their young cooperatively. When living with people, they transfer that sociability to us. This transfer leads to the communication we value so highly.
"He reads my mind." "He's my best friend." It's because he adopts us into his world as much as we adopt him into ours.
Dogs are truly a genetic miracle, the most varied species on the planet. Regardless of whether they are 2 pounds or 200, they all have the same motivations, instincts and needs.
There is no democracy in dogdom. Your dog is either being dominant ("I'm in charge and you follow") or submissive ("You're in charge and I follow"). They fit every interaction into one of these two psychological categories. When your dog comes up, drops a toy on your lap and barks at you, he is being dominant. He is commanding you, nicely, to throw it. When you do, you are following his order, which makes you submissive in his eyes. If, instead, you give him a command like "Sit" and then, after he obeys, toss the toy, you are leading. The more you lead, the more obedient your dog will be.
Dogs do not understand English.
If your kindergarten teacher had pointed to an apple while saying "grape," you might well think that the correct word for apple was grape. The situation is the same for your dog. If you say "Come" when he is playing but don't make him respond, then he grows up thinking "come" means "play." When teaching a command, you must carefully link the word with the action desired.
For the dog to learn, you have to link word with action within seconds because there is no way to explain to him later. When you come home at five and scold him for chewing the couch at three, he does not understand why you are upset. We call him "spiteful," "stupid," or just plain "bad" when he is actually confused or upset. A dog does not enjoy being in trouble with his owner. Your approval and acceptance are the most important things in your dog's life.
Understanding how a dog thinks will make everything you do with your dog, from selection to training, easier.
Excerpted from Good Owners, Great Dogs by Sarah Wilson Brian Kilcommons Copyright © 1992 by Brian Kilcommons . Excerpted by permission.
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