Thursday, June 01, 2017

What your dog wants you to know

Scout the Wonder Dog.
Actually, I'm not sure your dog cares. Mine, Scout the Wonder Dog, only wants me to know it's time to be fed. It's time to be fed all the time.

So, boys and girls, lesson No. 1 is that if you want your dog to do something use food. Scout the Wonder Dog responds to even a molecule of food on the kitchen floor. We stopped mopping a month after we got him.

I came across an article that wanders around a bit, kind of like a dog as I think about it, but I did learn some stuff, which I'm now going to share with you.

1. All the dogs in the world actually descended from a few gray wolves. And their evolution occurred relatively recently. While dogs lived with humans for tens of thousands of years, all these lines died out—except for one or two gray wolves in Asia. They made, according to UCLA biologist Robert Wayne, a “profound adaptation” by mutating to digest grain as well as meat.

I told you it's all about food, didn't I? I meant it.

2. Wayne established that every dog’s mitochondrial DNA is 99.9% the same as a gray wolf’s—so close they are the same species. One-third of that 0.1% difference is in the genes for fat and carbohydrate digestion. Half is in the brain and the tiny remainder—so little it surprised even Wayne—controls the time and rate of physical development and accounts for the vast differences in size and shape between breeds. Basically, dogs are wolves that adapted to eat rice and be nice.

Basically, that was my focus when I raised my kids.

3. Dogs become attached to people. Wolves—even when raised as cubs in a home—do not. This is true to an extraordinary extent. A dog put in a stressful situation will relax if a familiar human is there, but a familiar dog, even his mother, will make no difference. 

I've learned that if something, like another dog, frightens your dog, stand between it and the threat and make yourself as big as you can. This will reassure your dog.

4. Dogs, even ones raised without human company, understand what it means when a person points, even if the pointing is done with a leg, and even if the object being pointed at it is far away. Dogs have an ability to read and interpret human faces that is unique among all animals. Their first instinct when faced with a problem is to look to a human for guidance, something wolves do not do. Dogs will also communicate by looking at a human, then at a target object, then back again.

5. A dog’s vision is as different from ours as its sense of smell. Among other things, dogs have up to 270 degrees of peripheral vision. They can see us from over their shoulders without turning their head. Pretty much the last thing a dog does is listen. Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, says: “Scent before sight before sound.”

I can attest to that. I did some obedience training with Scout the Wonder Dog so that we could work as a therapy dog team at nursing homes and elsewhere. My training included learning that the way to direct a dog is to use presence, eye contact, touch, and speech. When I need Scout to sit or stay I use hand signals. I do the same with my wife.

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