When I say the word “space” what do you think of? If you’re living in the Internet age, chances are that your first thoughts involve men walking on the moon and NASA and probes landing on distant planets or leaving our solar system entirely.
That’s a pretty big definition of space, and it’s one that humans have pondered for as long as we’ve looked up at the stars. But, realistically, the space that each of us deals with on a daily basis is much smaller.
Right now, I’m on tour in Asia. The flight from Los Angeles to here was thousands of miles, and the flights between cities involve hundreds. That’s a lot more distance than most people regularly cover. Although it’s still much smaller than the “space” out there, it’s much bigger than the space we’re used to dealing with.
How humans perceive space
Most of us commute to work over a space of miles, then deal with our coworkers and loved ones in spaces from yards to inches. And while dogs may travel in our cars with us, their sense of space is much smaller. They don’t comprehend the miles we may travel by car. They’re just concerned with what’s within range of their noses, in yards, feet, and inches.
How dogs perceive space
Dogs see space in this way: social space, personal space, and intimate space. I’ve always been very connected to that, too, but it’s probably because Spanish distinguishes the three while English doesn’t. In English, we have “here” and “there” — right next to us and far away. But, in Spanish, we have words for “here,” “just over there,” and “way over there.”
The importance of claiming territory
For animals that communicate with energy and body language, like dogs, claiming territory is everything, and it doesn’t matter how big that territory is. It can be the entire house or it can be a single corner. Size doesn’t matter. What matters, particularly to dogs, is that they can take something and announce, “This is mine!”
Claiming your own territory
That’s what dogs do, and it’s perfectly fine, but we have to remember one thing. In order to be Pack Leaders, we have to control what a dog can claim as theirs. What this means is that we can only allow dogs to claim the space or objects we have given to them. If we let them claim any more than that, we’re asking for problems.
Inviting vs. invading
In a dog-human pack, social and intimate space belong to the humans. It’s our territory, and we need to invite our dogs into it instead of allowing them to invade it. In human terms, think of how badly invasions turn out. Generally, invasions turn into wars, and that is not how we want to live with our dogs.
Rules, boundaries, and limitations
I talk a lot about “rules, boundaries, and limitations,” and this is the reason for them. In order to be Pack Leaders, we need to define the boundaries of where our dogs can go and create the rules that tell them when they can and cannot enter our space. We need to do the same thing with limitations, which are just the time-based boundaries on how long a dog can do an activity.
A Pack Leader’s job
In order to be a Pack Leader, we need to earn our dogs’ respect, although people often don’t even try to do that. But, imagine this. Instead of a dog, you’re dealing with a co-worker. What if they constantly came into your work area, borrowed your things without asking, stood extremely close to you, and wouldn’t go away when you asked them to?
If a human did that, you’d call HR or the police in a second. And yet, we tend to let our dogs do that constantly — they get into our intimate space, they jump on our laps, they steal things from our trash, and they act like they own the place.
A lesson from dog socialization
We let our dogs invade our space because we’re afraid to tell them not to. But here’s the good news: Dogs don’t want to invade our intimate space. They want to respect it. We just have to define the space, then learn how to make them wait before they can enter it.
And that’s not so hard to do. Just go to a dog park and watch the dogs as they negotiate the rules in moving from social to personal to intimate space.
We can do the same, as long as we learn to listen to our dogs and understand how they deal with the world.
Stay calm, and claim your space!
Are you able to claim the door as your space when someone rings the bell, or is your dog the one who takes over? Tell us in the comments.