There’s a famous moment in an old Peter SellersPink Panther movie in which his character Inspector Clouseau asks a hotel desk clerk, “Does your dog bite?” After the clerk says no, Clouseau reaches down to pet the dog, which bites him.
The punchline to the routine is the clerk explaining, “That is not my dog.” So the clerk was technically telling the truth. He just didn’t specify which dog was sitting on the floor at the time.
I’m bringing this up because, sometimes, “that is not my dog” is the best approach to getting the behavior that we want from our dogs, and here’s why.
Sometimes, knowing our own dogs too well is exactly what gets in the way of us being able to give them the leadership that they need. Think about this — dogs are essentially domesticated animals that live in our homes, but “domesticated” doesn’t necessarily mean “completely devoid of animal behavior.”
In fact, it doesn’t mean that at all. Any one of our dogs, at any moment, can exhibit a bit of behavior that might seem completely out of character for the family pet we think we know so well, but which would not be such a surprise if we saw a random dog do it.
So when I say that “that is not my dog” is the best approach, I mean it in two ways, one of which is easier to achieve than the other. You either have to forget for a moment the relationship that you have with your own dog, or you need to get out and work with dogs that are not your own.
To make it easier to see why this can help, I want you to imagine for a moment that your dog has been replaced by another animal of similar size — it could be a rat, a raccoon, an otter, an ocelot, or a tiger. Now how do you react to that animal upon meeting it?
Chances are that you’re very careful, very respectful of the animal’s space, and you pay very close attention to how it moves. You certainly aren’t going to walk up to this animal and get right in its face the way you would with your own dog. Why not? Probably because you like your face and prefer keeping it on the front of your head!
Even with a strange dog, you’re less likely to be as friendly at first as you are with your own, and if that dog jumps on you or gets in your face, you probably don’t even think twice about pushing the dog down or telling it “No.” Even if you’re a total dog lover, that lack of intimate connection makes it much easier to be a Pack Leader. Without the relationship, we think twice about testing boundaries and are much more respectful of the animal part of the dog.
This is why it can help, if you’re not feeling in charge with your own dogs, to “borrow” a dog you don’t know to work with. It removes the veil of familiarity that can get in the way. Don’t get me wrong — that interspecies connection is a big part of what is so amazing about the human and dog bond and once we’ve established that relationship with our dog, the degree of trust between us is unlike that between any other unrelated species. However, because of that familiarity, we can often see the dog we think we have and not the dog that’s right in front of us. This is why it becomes so easy to miss it when your dog is telling you that they’re not happy or are unfulfilled. It’s also why we can sometimes become lazy and “cheat” by not following through when we’re trying to get our dog to follow a rule.
How many times has it been obvious to you why someone else’s dog is misbehaving? Whether it’s a friend’s dog, a stranger’s dog, or a dog on one of my shows, the reason probably jumps out at you. The reason it’s so obvious is because that is not your dog.
Next time you’re facing a behavioral issue with your dog but can’t figure out why they’re doing it, start by looking at them as a stranger. You might be surprised how obvious the answer becomes in that new light.
Stay calm, and always look through fresh eyes!