Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 3, 2013

Making Sense

Posted at 08:40AM - Comments: (4)

I was recently in the San Francisco Bay area for a few days, attending a couple of dog-related events. I stayed at some friends’ house – the same friends who adopted Mickey, a dog who had lingered in my local shelter for months without finding a home.

I wrote about Mickey, and how difficult it was to find him a home, in a blog back in July (http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/blog/Adopting-Shelter-Dogs-20590-1.html). Since then, Miceky’s news has all been good. His new family loves him, especially the dad, Dan, who has noticed that short-coated Mickey is often chilly; Dan has taken to wrapping the appreciative dog in a blanket and holding him in his arms like a sleeping baby as they watch TV in the evenings. Even Carly, the family’s senior dog, seems to appreciate having the bouncy adolescent dog around; she perks up when he’s playing, even if her involvement in the game is just laying there kind of like a “base” for his games of tag.

Every time I came back to the house, Mickey gave me a happy welcome, and frequently sought me out in the house, sitting in my lap on the couch or by my side as I sat at the kitchen table while my friend Maureen cooked. At one point, Maureen observed ruefully, “As much as I know Mickey likes us and is happy here, he seems to love you best!”

I hastened to point out that this is absolutely not so; I am certain that the six months in their home has strongly cemented Mickey’s relationship with the whole family, far beyond what could have developed in the short amount of time that Mickey and I spent together as I was trying to find him a home.

However, Maureen isn’t the first person I know who felt that their dog favored me (temporarily) over them – and I don’t think it’s because I’m special. Lots of dog trainers – and owners with above-average powers of observation, knowledge of operant conditioning, and good timing – discover that dogs like them and seek them out, sometimes favoring them over their owners.

I think that when a person spends a little time training a dog with methods that make sense to the dog, the dog feels understood – and he enjoys the experience. I think it’s as if he has a clear and interesting conversation with someone he has a lot in common with – as opposed to being forced to spend time with someone who converses with unpredictable bits of interesting news interspersed with lots of meaningless noise punctuated by unpleasant misunderstandings. And I suspect that this latter description is how many dogs spend their lives with humans. “Blah blah blah blah, Ginger, blah blah blah blah.”

When training is richly rewarding, makes sense, and is fun, it makes a dog want to be around the trainer, whether for rewards, understanding, or fun. Even though I haven’t actually trained Mickey to do anything for months, or so much as given him a treat, he still thinks of me as someone potentially rewarding and enjoyable. Or rather, associates me with rewards and fun.

Or do you think he remembers me as the person who took him away from the shelter and found him a family? I do not think that; that’s giving him far more credit for memory and intelligence than I think dogs have.

Have you had this experience with someone else’s dog? How did you explain it?

Comments (4)

It is possible Mickey does "know" you got him out of that awful place that smelled of death & fear. I've rescued a number of my breed & they do seem to emotionally "GRAB" onto whoever gets them out (lifeline?) & remember you later, even if ALL you did, was transport them to the vet, or the foster home.

You talked about ..."training [being] richly rewarding, makes sense, and is fun, it makes a dog want to be around the trainer, whether for rewards, understanding, or fun." REPLY: Training also forms a BOND, IMO.

"Even though I haven't actually trained Mickey to do anything for months, or so much as given him a treat, he still thinks of me as someone potentially rewarding and enjoyable. Or rather, associates me with rewards and fun."

REPLY: We advise ALL our adoptive owners (regardless of the dog's training) to take the dog THROUGH a remedial obedience class, to help speed bonding and help with communication between them. Frankly, it is sad to see so many dogs languish as "only" a pet, when they could be doing so much more & enjoying (with the owner): tracking, hunting, agility, frisbee, dock-diving, therapy work, rally, etc. Owners miss out on a far deeper bond with any dog (adoptive or bought) if they do nothing but feed & walk it. Dogs were bred to be SO MUCH MORE. They need/want a sense of accomplishment & self-worth, too.

Posted by: Betsy | February 13, 2013 12:06 PM    Report this comment

I get this a lot too. I am a dog walker and sometimes the owner is home. They often tell me how much the dog likes me and that they think the dog likes me more than them! I just tell them they are just excited because they know it's fun time when I come. I also tell them that they are usually not as happy/rambunctious when they are not home, they are just super excited to have two special people at home with them that day! :) And I too have dogs I don't know constantly "run up" to me as well, but I chalk that up to having all kinds of doggy smells on me. ;)

Posted by: Andrea J | February 6, 2013 7:14 PM    Report this comment

I've had this experience many times with dogs I've never met before! The owner will say "he normally barks at new people that come into the house" or "she never goes to strangers and lets them pet her". I think there must be some sort of aura around us as dog-lovers that they recognize. And I absolutely think Mickey remembers you, maybe not as the person who saved him, but as a person who gave him a home (temporarily) and love.

Posted by: Joan C | February 6, 2013 10:12 AM    Report this comment

I absolutely agree that Mickey sees you as a potential source of interest, understanding and enjoyment!

Posted by: LAB | February 6, 2013 7:57 AM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In