Do Dogs Think?
The first thing I have to say is “don’t under estimate your dog.” Dogs have brains similar to ours, believe it or not. They learn much in the same way that we do, from experience. They remember things much the same as we do and some dogs have very long memories.
They would rather do things that create happy memories and avoid doing things that bring back unpleasant memories. And it has been scientifically proven that dog’s have emotions, they can feel such things as love, anger, being frightened and even jealousy. If that is not enough they can even read our body language.
Dog’s even have the ability to generalize and discriminate between things. It might surprise you that they are better at it than we are.
All animals have the ability to acquire knowledge, the important thing is that they have to know how, where, and when to use the knowledge they acquired.
How do you know if your dog has this ability, well, first of all discrimination is the ability to decide the difference between two things or events as being unrelated to each other. Generalization on the other hand is to see the relationship between things.
So how do you know if your dog has this talent? Let’s take a doorbell ringing as an example, if your dog hears a doorbell ringing on the television set and does not respond to it, but will go running if the front doorbell rings, he/she has the ability to discriminate. However, if the doorbell on the television and the front door bell excites your dog, he/she is generalizing that both are the same.
The tables can be turned, however, if you take your dog out of its element; for instance a dog that behaves very well at home, goes to a new location and suddenly does not obey commands. The problem is your dog realizes that the new location is different, which is discrimination, but does not realize that the same rules should apply, so he/she lacks the ability to generalize. In this situation you need to keep taking your dog to new places, while continuing to train him/her to obey the commands that it does at home.
Many dogs learn to dislike people who are in uniform, who wear a hat or badge or who just dress differently from the normal dress the dog sees most of the time. The dislike can also come from the dog having a bad experience with someone who was dressed differently. The dog will then generalize that all people who look that the “bad experience person” are bad and should not be treated nicely.
The same goes for a trip to the veterinarian. If the dog has had a painful experience at the vets, it is easy for the dog to generalize that riding in the car, the smells in the waiting room and people dressed in a veterinary type uniform are unpleasant and so he/she will not get into the car.
So what is a pet parent to do? If you will take a few moments to understand the difference between discrimination and generalization, you can help your dog learn that all things are not created equal. With a little effort on your part and the help of a few friends you can modify your dog’s unacceptable behavior and help create in your dog’s mind the difference.
Train your dog in several different places and at different times of the day, adding changes and distractions slowly into the mix. By doing this you are instilling in your dog that no matter where he/she is there are certain rules that have to be followed no matter where the location is.
Have friends help you to teach your dog to discriminate between two situations. In the case of uniforms, or good guys and bad guys, if you want your dog to be able to discriminate between the two, have some friends wear funny hats or a uniform type costume and make some threatening kinds of action toward the dog or you. Being careful of course that no one gets hurt. The dog then gets the idea that this kind of dress and action is not good and will bark and react to it.
On the other hand if you want the dog to see that all people dressed in a strange way are not bad, have the same people at a different time, approach the dog in a friendly manner thereby showing the dog that all people dressed strangely are not the enemy.
This will take practice, but is worth the effort if your dog is not comfortable around uniforms, hats and other unusual items like umbrellas or canes. Whatever you want your dog discriminate between will take several repetitions and as they saying goes practice makes perfect.