Bird Dogs & Training  |  05/23/2013

Do dogs "think" differently from us?

Just like a therapist can best help someone by getting into their minds, at least figuratively, we can guide our dog toward excellence by understanding how he thinks. This form of “training” is mainly for us, adjusting the way we think based on how our dog reasons (or we think he reasons), rationalizes and justifies his behavior.
We humans can think in more than one dimension, plan ahead, reason, debate alternatives, and consider abstract concepts. Dogs, for the most part, string thoughts (actually, probably more like reactions than thoughts in the human sense) in a linear pattern. “A” is followed by “B,” and then comes “C” and so on. If you work with bank tellers often enough you may not always agree, but in general we humans have much more experience with life – and learning – than they do.
I’ve also noticed that dogs think literally. Here’s the classic example: my guys watch me enter the shop across the driveway from their yard. They spend much of the next half hour staring at the doorknob, willing it to re-deliver me to them. I went in that way, I will come out that way (they think). A cruel variation is the hide-the-treat game, where you move it from hand to hand behind your back. Again, they saw it in one hand … it must still be there, right?
Time and again I’m also reminded that dogs truly live “in the moment.” Their actions, desires, needs are right now, right here. Unlike the abstract thinking humans utilize (excepting some sons-in-law) canines are all about NOW. Look up “immediate gratification” in the dictionary and there will be a picture of a dog ready to pounce on a bobwhite.
From the email in-box:
Q: To neuter or not to neuter? I’m in the process of purchasing my first bird dog and have been given a lot of advice on what to do and what not to do when getting your first bird dog. On several occasions I have heard rumors around town about whether or not to get your dog fixed or neutered. Some say that if you do get your dog fixed, they will not be able to hunt longer and will be less aggressive in the field. Is this true?
A: Having just lived through our most recent neutering, I haven’t seen any change in Manny’s field behavior. The problems you worry about are easily fixed with good conditioning and training. The simple answer is, if you aren’t going to breed or show your dog, neutering will prevent unwanted doggie pregnancies and possibly damp down the roaming instinct in dogs seeking females in heat. The research on whether neutered males are more prone to certain cancers is not conclusive; certainly they aren’t vulnerable to testicular cancer! Many old wives will suggest a neutered dog is less aggressive, but there is little evidence of that in the science either. Most research does recommend postponing neutering for at least 18 months or more to ensure a dog’s body gets all the benefits of hormones generated from the testes and develops fully. Some suggest that will also minimize the cancer risks some research associates with neutering.
Q: Scott, you mentioned the tape on your shooting glasses so that you use your right eye. I was checking that out and noticed I close my left eye. I really never noticed it before. What are the pros and cons to closing an eye?
A: If you shoot better with your left eye closed, you might be cross-dominant like me. The tape ensures that I don’t have to remember to close my eye – instead, it muddles my left/dominant eye’s vision enough so my right takes over (I shoot righty).
Send your questions here.  For ordering information on Scott’s new book, What the Dogs Taught Me, go here.