Have you ever walked into a room and when people turn to look your way you think, “OMG do I have something in my teeth? Is my hair a mess? Is toilet paper stuck to my shoe AGAIN?!?” Well, those thoughts are what psychologists refer to as “projecting.” We assume that when people look at us, they are criticizing us in some way. We are projecting our own insecurities onto them.
While it’s possible people are thinking these negative thoughts about us, it’s more likely that they are not. They might have just had a reflex to look your way when the door sounded. Or they might actually look your way and think, “Ohh, great hair! I need to ask her where she gets it done.”
The point is that just because we think someone else is silently putting us down or is out to get us, that doesn’t make it true. The same goes with dogs, who don’t have the ability to speak with words, so we humans do a LOT of filling in the blanks for them. Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of misinformation around as to why dogs do what they do, so people often jump to the wrong conclusions about them. With that in mind, I thought I’d help you by doing a little translating.
One note before I begin. While (as far as I know) dogs don’t think in English, there is a growing body of research about dog behavior, and that’s where I pull my data. The following translations are accomplished by turning scientifically proven Doggish behaviors into English.
Scenario 1: Chewing the sofa
Percy the Portuguese Water Dog puppy is so adorable! But one day his family came home and found that Percy had completely gutted their new sofa.
Common human response: “Look at that guilty face!!!! He knows better than to do this! BAD PERCY! He just destroyed my sofa to get even with me because I left him alone!”
What Percy is really thinking: “Boy I thought I had the greatest family ever!!! They left me alone for a long time, but they were SO thoughtful to give me this MASSIVE toy to destuff. I LOVE dissecting toys. It’s like the biggest stuffed animal ever!!!
“But now I’m really scared. When they came home they started yelling at me. I can’t wait until they leave me again. It’s so much fun to chew up the toys, and when they’re not here I feel so much safer. I wish they wouldn’t yell at me. I don’t know why they’re so angry.”
SCENARIO 2: PEEING INDOORS
Oh Percy. Now he’s peeing in the house rather than outdoors.
Common human thinking: “What is wrong with him?!? He doesn’t pee out on walks, but once we’re back in the house and I walk away, he pees! He needs to learn some respect!”
What Percy is really thinking: “Phew! The coast is clear. Whenever I pee and someone sees me, they yell at me and sometimes even hit me. But nothing bad happens when I’m alone, so that’s when I pee! It’s so much safer for me. I really like when we go out on walks, but I’m no dummy. No way am I peeing when that person is tied to me by that leash. I’ll never be able to get away if they get mad. Best to pee when I’m all alone in the house. What a relief to have somewhere safe to relieve myself.”
Scenario 3: stealing food
Sweet, sweet Percy. Still getting into trouble. Today he ate an entire package of hamburger meat that was thawing out on the counter.
Common human thinking: “Percy!!!!! Did you do this? Did you eat this whole thing? You know better than that!!!! PERCY!!!! Don’t give me that guilty look!”
What Percy is really thinking: “O.M.G!!!! I had the best time ever this morning!!!! Huddle up. I have GOT to share this with you. The family went out for a bit, and I was trying to figure out what to do… They barricaded me from the massive stuffies in the house, so I couldn’t play with those. But my nose picked up an intriguing fragrance from the kitchen. Is it mutton? Turkey? Hot dog? No wait. I know this one. It’s… it’s… IT’S BEEF!!!! I smell beef!
“Let me trot on over to get a little more info. Ok. It’s definitely in this room, but it’s up on that counter. Can I get to it? (What a tantalizing challenge this is for me!) Let me just get a bit of a running start… SHAZAM!!!!! Beef, my boy, you are mine! I’ll just drag this puppy down to the floor so that I can dig in. What a day. Not only dig I get some premium meat, but also it was like a game — almost as if I was living as my ancestors might have done, searching out food. My god that was fun. I’m gonna take a nap now.”
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? Look. We’re human. We all make mistakes, we all get frustrated with others, and I’m pretty sure we all, at some point or another, project our insecurities onto others. The thing is, though, when we do it to our dogs, we might end up scaring or hurting them for being guilty of nothing more than being a normal dog.
Dogs have to be taught what to chew and what not to chew. They have to be taught where to pee and where not to pee. And scavenging and hunting for food is built into their DNA. They’re not out to get us when they do this stuff — they’re being normal dogs. It’s up to us to teach them how to co-exist in our crazy human world and to give them legal outlets for their natural drive to hunt, scavenge, chew, and dissect.
If you want to become fluent in Doggish and build a relationship with your pup built on love and respect, visit iSpeakDog, and maybe even consider hiring a qualified dog trainer to help you out. Learn to understand your dog as he or she really is. I promise you, if you do, your bond with your pup will grow stronger than you ever could have imagined.