“We have dragged them far from their own realm”

January 26, 2009 at 3:58 am 2 comments

In his Sur l’universalité de la langue française the Comte Antoine de Rivarol writes:

“Thus nature and the chance happenings of life furnish animals with signs which means that the kind and number of such signs are greatly limited. Only humans are capable of furnishing them with artificial and varied signs, which, for the animal are neither natural nor representative.”

“When we start to treat animals in this way, an insurmountable hurdle soon arises; we have dragged them far from their own relam without transporting them into ours; and the vast majority of our signs still express needs they do not have and ideas they do not conceive.”

As Rivarol wrote, all animals — including dogs, have their own signs and languages.  The dog’s language is built primarily upon scent and gesture and his signs are far simpler and more natural than ours.  Because human ideals like fashion, commerce and rhetoric are “needs they do not have and ideas they do not conceive,” much of our behavior makes no sense to the dog.  But because all dogs are masters of reading and interpreting human body language we forget how limited their comprehension of spoken language — and of the complex, modern human world really is.

And there lies the rub. While living our own busy and complicated lives we tend to forget that, skilled as his deceit may be, the dog doesn’t understand our language or the odd cultural constructs of our world. Then the poor dog is blamed for “behavior problems” created by an unfortunate combination of miscommunication and unrealistic expectations — not willful disobedience on his part.

Most dogs live in an alien world dominated by strange beings who, for the most part, behave in ways that make just enough sense to keep them guessing.  We make a little sense — and a lot of nonsense.

When dogs behave badly the root cause is often is that we have “dragged them far from their own realm.” Stop dragging  your dog, slow down and find a way to lead him.

Entry filed under: behavior science, dog training, dogs. Tags: .

Breakfast of Champions Just Get Over It

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jan  |  January 27, 2009 at 1:11 am

    I’ve seen so many people “warn” and “threaten” their dogs, while the poor dog had no idea what was going on. I wish they would read this, but they would be too stupid to apply to their own behavior.

  • 2. Dorene  |  January 27, 2009 at 2:59 am

    While I learn a lot from H’s blog, I get depressed when she talks about all the commands she or her clients have taught her/their dogs. While I have evidence that Pepper understands all sorts of words and even phrases, really, there’s only 6 single words that she recognizes as commands.

    The hardest thing I had to learn when communicating with Pepper is that while I am very verbal, she is not. Early on in training, the trainer recognized that Pepper is very senstive to throat signs and when working with Pepper myself, I found that if I used hand signals, I got Instant Compliance Dog, whereas if I used words, there was just the slightest hestitation — not enough to for disobedince, but more like showing that it was just easier for her to understand the gestures over the words.

    So, I really am able to do quite a bit with my dog, but it’s mostly me grunting and waving my hands around, with a word thrown in every now and then. I’m sure it looks REALLY odd and it gives me no bragging rights at all as we don’t really have any phrases that I can tell Pepper to do something. Yet somehow, we’re able to get done everything we need to do in a reasonable manner.

    Odd as it is, I really am okay with the “language as gesture” thing, but as a human, I’m drawing the line at using scent. Sometimes, the dog just has to deal! 😉

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Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste


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