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Psychoanalyzing Your Dog

Almost every canine owner on the planet has decided at one point or another that his or her pet is crazy. Nuts. Loco. Still, before you start fantasizing about confining Spot to the proverbial rubber dog kennel, it might be useful to really think about the way your dog reacts and deals with the world we humans have set up for it.

At first, you might want to try and be the Sigmund Freud of the dog world and really think about what a dog wants. "Dog whisperer" Cesar Millan has made a very nice career of this, but he often throws an air of mystery over what he does to the point where we ordinary mortals, us non-dog whisperers, can't really follow his lead.

So, where do we begin? The beginning, of course. Dogs, after all, are simply wolves that have been bred, over thousands of years, to depend on humans. To a certain degree, they've been made to be less intelligent than wolves -- we don't want dogs suddenly realizing that they could run things if they wanted to, a la "Planet of the Apes." Our meddling with their genetics has led them to be submissive and docile, but only up to a point. Domestication can only do so much and even the world's most codependent golden retriever or fearful Chihuahua has a bit of the big bag wolf in him. Still, it's a big bad wolf that's totally dependent on us.

You can say that dogs instinctively love us or you can be a bit more cynical and think that they have been bred to appeal to obsequiously placate us and milk our tender human emotions. Still, your dog clearly craves our attention and touch more than just about anything else -- except, of course, our food. They are social animals par excellence and pack animals as well. They must have our attention or, almost literally, they will die.

Indeed, while cats tend to think of human beings as essentially mommy and daddy, most animal psychologists believe that dogs think more in terms of social organization. To a dog, everyone is some kind of dog. It assumes that at least the larger humans are higher up the social order than it is, but your dog will be watching carefully to try and discern who the alpha dog is in your house. Unless you want to see your entire house turned into the world's most upscale dog kennel, you just want to make sure Spot doesn't see a power vacuum and decide he just might be a candidate for the position. You also want to watch how your children relate to the dog and make sure the dog is giving them their due respect. Even if the dog doesn't see them as alphas, it shouldn't see them as higher up than he is.

We mentioned Sigmund Freud and Cesar Millan as possible role models for figuring how to work with your dog, but another useful example might be Deanna Troi, played by Marina Sirtis and viewable on daily reruns of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." If you recall your Trek lore, Ms. Troi was both a gifted psychoanalyst and an empath, able to telepathically read the feelings of humans and aliens (she's part Betazoid herself) and, of course, empathize with them, feeling what they were feeling. This is not the same as giving into your dog and giving it your human food just because he wants it. It means understanding what motivates him and how you can properly reward your pooch for good behavior. Once you do, you might begin to realize that your that while your dog kennel is called a house, you and your pooch might not be all that different.

 

 

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