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 (/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?