Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Dogs are amazing creatures. The amount of information they can discern in a short amount of time is really something. I have a friend whose dog, Sally, is like a cartoon character; everything the dog does is exaggerated. Seriously, this dog should have her own reality show! She’s like the Joan Rivers of canines. She knows in an instant if she likes or dislikes another dog, and she lets you – and the other dog – know it.
To give you the entire picture, I’ll start with the dog. Sally is a seven year-old mixed breed from a shelter. My friend has had her since she was 10 months old. The dog lives in a single-dog household with two cats. She gets along wonderfully with the cats, but my friend has been reluctant to adopt another dog because she can never anticipate how Sally will react to other dogs.
When she’s out walking Sally and another dog approaches, Sally can immediately tell if she likes the other dog or not. My friend works hard on breathing calmly and not communicating anything from the other end of the leash. It doesn’t matter what my friend does, though. Sally will make a snap judgment. She’ll bow up with her hackles raised and begin to bark threateningly, or she’ll drag my friend over to the other dog with her head lowered and her tail wagging in a friendly manner.
Her decision is immediate and unwavering. What’s more, Sally can make her assessment from great distances and it seems to have nothing to do with how the other dog is responding to her. In fact, sometimes she’s sized up the other dog before the other dog even notices Sally and my friend approaching.
When I pitched this article idea, Diane at CANIDAE responded by saying that her dog, Breezie, also instantly decides if she likes or hates another dog, and Diane has no idea why. Other friends have shared similar experiences, so I was curious about what the experts would say.
Jean Donaldson is the founder of the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers. Additionally, she’s authored several books on dog training and behavior, including The Culture Clash and Dogs are from Neptune.
The difference between dogs and people is that dogs are able to make faster decisions about who they do and don’t like. I’ll go out on a limb here and say they are able to make more accurate decisions, too. Since the canine olfactory sense is so keen, dogs can determine from a great distance if the approaching dog is male or female, neutered or spayed, and maybe even if they had CANIDAE dog food or something else for breakfast.
It’s not just a dog’s ability to take in so much information via the nose; they are also experts on reading body language – canine and human. They can tell immediately if the approaching dog displays welcoming or rude body language. Even though dogs can’t see details or colors as well as humans, they are authorities on picking up on other dogs’ movements and intentions.
Donaldson also suggests that the reasons for some dog’s snap judgments are based on profiling. Not the CSI version of profiling, but rather a reaction to a certain type of dog; as if a certain category of dog bothers your dog and her prejudice causes a pre-emptive reaction.
As an example, Donaldson shares a personal experience with her Border collie. She says her dog was perfectly nice to most dogs and tolerant to practically all dogs but she hated Standard Poodles – all Standard Poodles regardless of height, size, color, haircut, etc. Donaldson is convinced her dog’s reaction to Standard Poodles is a result of one slightly irritating poodle on one particular occasion.
Is your dog like Sally and Breezie, or does she love everyone?
Top photo by Richard Harrison
Bottom photo by Hunter-Desportes
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell