How dogs perceive the world


John Preston Smith - Contributing columnist



“Dog training affirms that his natural instincts and skills can be encouraged and developed.” — Unknown

In my early years as a dog trainer, I realized most folks I encountered considered their canine companion to be more than “just” another friend. Let’s face it. How many friends do you make excuses for when they poop on the carpet, shred your curtains, pee on your pillows, chew your shoes, jump up on you with muddy feet, or run away just because you left the gate ajar?

But for your dog, your beloved pet, anything is excusable and pardonable. Why is that? Simple. It’s because there are several aspects, senses, or instincts of dogs that make them a perfect companion, therefore forgiveness is justifiable. Consider this:

The pack instinct. They crave leadership, companionship and family.

They are social. Whether it’s just you or a large family, they can be perfectly content.

The territorial instinct. Yes, this can be problematic. It’s why they chase cars, the mailman, all delivery men, squirrels, rabbits, other dogs … and it’s why there’s a dirt path worn along the front fence. But, in their minds, they are protecting your property and your life. It’s a pretty good trade-off if you ask me.

They have an uncanny knack of adjusting to our needs, wants, desires and wishes; no matter how quirky or peculiar we might be.

There is a breed of dog that will fit into every lifestyle, whether you hunt or fish; whether you live in the country or a city apartment; whether you travel or are solitary; whether you desire a companion, protection, alarmor guard dog; whether you are a car salesman or a car thief.

They come in every shape, size and color… except plaid.

You can find one that’ll fit your disposition, whether you are content, gloomy, cranky, crabby, outgoing, sullen, cheerful, controlling, submissive or ecstatic about life.

At the close of my last column, I mentioned that the precursor to training a dog is to understand basic differences between them and us. Here they are:

SIGHT: Not too many years past it was believed that dogs’ sight was limited to black, white and shades of grey. Research today indicates that they also see shades of yellows, blues and violets, although much more limited than you and I. It is interesting that dogs recognize movement at a much greater distance than humans, yet the human eye maintains focus at a much greater distance than dogs. On occasions, I have noticed my dog’s blank stare into fields where deer roamed. It was only with concentrated effort that I could distinguish the movement that he so easily recognized. Therefore, it would be to your advantage when training your dog to consider using hand signals. Believe it or not, some dogs are easier trained with hand signals than verbal commands.

TOUCH: Most important during the socialization period. Once grown, however, they may or may not respond to petting, caressing or fondling. Many obedience dogs, however, will work extremely hard for a simple pat on the head. Research indicates that dogs respond to physical pain to the same extent as humans.

HEARING: Voice inflection and single words enhance his understanding of what we want of him. The words we use and how they are pronounced can encourage, discourage, excite or demoralize. They hear sounds of a much higher pitch than humans and they hear faint sounds that we cannot detect. We’ve all experienced our dogs’ barking a welcome or warning of a coming automobile well before the sound of that engine reaches our ears.

SMELL: This is where the world of dogs and the world of humans separate. Imagine a bloodhound on the heels of a killer. He may be following shoe traces left on plants and dirt, or skin rafts (dead cells) lying about or floating in the air (we shed 30,000 to 40,000 skin rafts every hour.) It may be raining or snowing, and the track may be days old. Maybe hundreds of people and other animals have contaminated the original traces. Yet, the dog persists, never tiring, never quitting, until he finds the culprit. He has an uncanny ability to smell or sense chemical changes all around … in the air, on the ground, and on your body. He does not know that death approaches, but he does sense the chemical changes your body gives off whenever you have a significant mental, emotional, or physical change.

TASTE: Dogs have about 1,700 taste buds as opposed to your 9,000. Mostly they are around the tip of his tongue. But, he will also eat trash, antifreeze, or other toxic foods that may be poisonous. If you have an outside dog, and you have cranky neighbors, or have concerns regarding intruders, you might consider poison-proofing your dog. However, study the process thoroughly before proceeding, better still, enlist services of a professional trainer.

Knowing and understanding how a dog perceives the world through his sense of sight, touch, sound, smell and taste, without question will make you a better owner, handler and trainer.

Thanks for reading — John.

John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Direct questions or comments to facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.

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John Preston Smith

Contributing columnist