You aren’t the bad guy
The parts of dog ownership that are the hardest in my opinion are the ones that play with your emotions. Sometimes as pet parents we have to make decisions for our dog’s that don’t feel good for them and ultimately don’t feel good for us. And if it doesn’t touch our emotions then you can guarantee others will point it out.
These decisions can be anything from cutting down food to maintain or reduce weight to having your dog behind a barrier when visitors come. The way we feel about these decisions is personal and what might be fine for one person, will feel distressing for another. For some people asking a dog do perform a task for food or even provide meals in enriching ways can be a struggle for them.
That’s why we have to look at the whole picture and forgive ourselves. If someone said that feeding your dog in enriching ways was cruel. Your answer might be, that it works for your dog because it provides them mental stimulation, it gives them a job to do so that they feel confident and useful. While they are our loved pets they are still captive animals and need to have outlets for their natural instincts.
I place my dog, Badger’s bed in a low traffic part of the house. And send him there when the toddler is climbing on me or she is active and I’m less so. Human perception of this is that he looks like he is being banished and left out.
What’s really happening? This option has been heavily reinforced with treats and he is regularly reinforced for settling here.
What I need to tell myself: This is a better option for Badger as he won’t get constantly disturbed, feel the need to raise his signals to growling and snapping. He has a safe place where he can enjoy undisturbed sleep. The relationship between the two remains positive and therefore he lives a happier life.
It’s also just human perspective and we don’t really know how our dogs feel. So to feel certain things, we need a slightly different sense of self and time.
The self recognition test involves putting a red mark on a sedated animal and putting them in front of a mirror once awake. If they try to remove the mark, they are said to have a sense of self.
While dogs failed at this, another experiment was done later where dogs were tested using smell. They spent significantly less time smelling their own urine than that of others. When diseased tissue was placed in their own urine, they sniffed for much longer. So we do think they have a sense of self.
They certainly see the world differently, mainly through their nose. We think that they may see time in scent particles a bit like an egg timer. So if you leave the house, your scent particles will slowly reduce and if you come home at the same time every day, the level they are at could become the predictor to you coming home. That may be the reason your dog seems to know.
But what we don’t know and may never know is how dogs really feel. Does Badger really feel dejected when sent away to his bed? I definitely think it would have had a negative effect if it had just happened, with no build up, prep or training. Simply because it was a massive change of routine. But does he feel less loved? Wanted? I don’t believe so.
He doesn’t show other behaviours that suggest he’s unhappy. In fact he will usually settle down for a good sleep. And now he mostly opts out of situations himself. Takes him off to that bed.
In early dog training we were always told to never anthropomorphise your dog. But I think there are some aspects of doing this that can help us. (You’ve seen my cartoons!). But still remembering that while they may seem to have human traits. The way they see the world is so completely different to us. We just can’t even comprehend it.
So we need to support our dogs to changes in the best way we can. We also need to support ourselves. As children we need decisions made for us because we don’t always choose the best ones. Some of them can even put us in danger. The difference is, we grow up and thank our parents, where our dogs can’t. But really, on the inside, if I’m anthropomorphising, I think they do. I know Badger does now when he’s all curled up safe in his bed. I know I’ve prevented a much worse outcome even if that was hard.