MANY times in a week I am informed that a dog only understands German, French, Spanish, English, etc.
I find many owners and some trainers have a misguided perception of what a dog really is and entertain false expectations of their pet. Most think their pet is a small hairy person based on the assumption that a dog’s level of understanding is equal to their own.
It’s vital to keep in mind dogs don’t have the capacity to intercept human language, behaviour or emotions.
How intelligent is a dog?
Dogs are capable of linking two ideas together, but not actions, which are separated to another time. If for example, a dog makes a mess during your absence there’s no point telling it off or getting annoyed; the dog’s brain cannot link the action. Many say ‘He knows he’s done wrong’ He doesn’t, the brain’s not formulated this way.
A dog’s brain is much smaller than man’s, in particular the cerebrum which is associated with intellectual function, emotion and personality. Dogs cannot understand human language. It’s more important to use sound patterns, intonation, facial and body language as a form of communication. A dog wants to please so learning should be based on positive reinforcement of reward. Owners should keep in mind a large part of a dog’s brain is occupied with sensory activity, particularly interpretation of scent.
Instinct is something either there or not there.
A dog’s natural instinct plays a vital role and often it’s difficult to understand why so dog owners can’t differentiate between instinct and intelligence. Instinct is an urge from within making a dog act in certain ways, it has no connection with intelligence.
A dog’s first instinct is to survive; when a pup is born it squirms about until it finds a teat and then sucks. There’s no intelligence or learning by any association in the process. Maternal instinct tells the female to clean up the foetal membrane, etc. and stir the puppy into action by licking it. The female isn’t taught, she’s not seen another female do this. Most instincts provide pleasure and dogs associate it with the action. The instinct grows stronger with use.
Instinct can be strengthened, weakened or diverted, it can’t be put there, or taken away. It might lie dormant, but once developed it can’t be weakened.
A dog obsessed with chasing balls can be controlled by training and providing other energy outlets. A young dog corrected the first time it chases a car may give up the idea, but if allowed to chase cars the hunting instinct becomes stronger, and in no time it will be very difficult, even impossible to cure the habit.