Know Your Pooch
The writer is former director, GSI, and an avid animal lover. His understanding of man's best friend comes from over six decades of dedicated association with it…
Many dog parents ask me this question. They say that ‘He understands me so well that sometimes I feel he is almost a human!’ ‘He knows when we are going out of station and jumps inside the suitcase, as it is being packed or occupies his seat in the car, much before we start loading our stuff in the Boot.’ For some he is almost like their child and for others he is a companion who is always by their side. ‘I don’t want a circus dog, why should I force him to perform tricks or shake hands?’
Yes, they are right. But what they forgot to mention was that ‘It was hell of a job catching him, when he broke free from his leash in the park or on the road.’ ‘It is really a job to quieten him down when he starts barking at the strangers in the house.’ ‘Our Postman refuses to come to our place to deliver the letters (of course a rarity now)!’ ‘When I got up in the morning, my Hush Puppies were missing. It was painful to see them chewed off to bits.’ Like that I can write thousands of examples of ‘doggy deeds’ which often spoil our day or routine.
A majority of the dog owners believe that dogs learn of their own. They forget that we humans have a spoken language while dogs don’t have a language as such. They use a body language and express through barks, grunts and growls or howls. Thus, in order to make your dog really understand what you are trying to convey you have to develop a language which he is able to understand. You know it well that world over there are so many languages. Our own country has 22 languages plus umpteen dialects. Each individual speaks to his dog in his own language and yet a dog is able to understand. It is amazing to watch a GSD imported from Germany obey all the commands in Hindi! How does this happen?
Doggy instincts and senses play a big role in bridging the communication gap between the humans and the dog. The first thing you do when you bring home a puppy is to give him a name. And lo, within no time he begins to respond to his name! Many other animals like cats, cows, horses and parrots respond to their names. But not like the dog does. They have a way of expressing with their tail, ears, eyes and sometimes even smiles. Yes, some dogs do appear as if they are smiling. Of course, they won’t be able to understand your joke, but when sitting with the family and when everyone laughs at something, some dogs also join by giving an expression of a smile.
Yet the question still remains, how do they understand our language? The experts say that dogs understand about 430 words of English. I can’t vouch for that. But I do feel that they understand many more words of many languages that we can’t even comprehend. If you notice carefully your tone varies when you are happy or angry. Dogs are able to make out the subtle variations of this tone. If you have taught your dog to Come when called, he will come even if you say Sum in the same tone. My dachshund Minty used to get wild on hearing the word ‘Chhipakali’ (lizard) in Hindi. What amazed me that even if I used the word in a long sentence she would make out and start a vigorous search. But if the same word was spoken outside in the open or in the car in a sentence she would sit quietly. Thus, I could make out two things. Firstly, they learn by the tone, secondly by the circumstances or situation. For example, it was usually in the evenings when all of us were sitting together in a room and this word was uttered, she would go crazy, sniffing around. That was the time when lizards came out in search of food.
So far I have told you about how they learn and knowing that you train/teach them to respond to your commands. Now let us discuss something about what your pooch thinks of you. In other words, how does he teach you?
Dogs know that if they howl and scratch at the door, howsoever you may be feeling you will take them out. Once outside, they know it jolly well that you will be busy with your cell phone or talking with a neighbour, they can easily drag you to the spot where they want to empty their bladders or bowels. Your dog may behave with you in a particular manner during a walk, for example, like a spoilt child, being obstinate at times. While the same dog, with other family member may behave perfectly normal! How does this happen? This is because dogs are hardwired or rather say they have an innate quality of identifying faces. He has a picture of you deeply printed in his brain. In addition, he has a great power of observation. With that he can read your moods and moves both.
At times dogs can be altruistic. For example, during a walk if you fall down and get injured and as you try to nurse your injury he keeps hovering around as if trying to find a way out to help you. I have seen my Labrador retriever bitch drop her most favourite bone in front of my daughter as if asking, ‘Come on you can play with it’. Training, as I have said many times is nothing but establishing a communication between dog and master. If you are a good communicator, you will be able to train your dog easily. To be a good communicator you have to observe your pupil/audience and try to understand their facial expressions. Likewise, to be a good communicator you have to observe your dog more and more. To us a dog may be a poor communicator, but his power of observation is unsurpassable. The same dog when the master begins to understand him, becomes ‘almost human’.
Therefore, I am strongly of the opinion that you must train your dog and make him understand what you expect from him! As far as a dog is concerned, he is already, genetically and instinctively taught to train you.