The biggest mistake dog owners can make with their dogs is to treat them like humans. The human race is such a kind, compassionate species that we tend to look at our canine companions as little humans, when in reality, they are canines and have a very different thought process. This is what differentiates mankind from other species in pack societies; there must be a specific order, from the leader on down to the last follower. Everyone has a place. The leaders are the strength of the pack, while the followers need the leader to guide them. Dogs have an instinct to constantly test the being above them and an instinct to know they will always be tested by the being below them. Instinct tells them that if there is not a strong being in charge, their life and the lives of the rest of their pack are at stake. This primal instinct keeps the pack secure and happy.
Dogs instinctually crave rules to follow, and limits as to what they are allowed to do. When dogs live with humans, the humans become the dog’s pack. For the relationship to succeed, humans must become the dog’s pack leader. The mistake is made when the humans in the pack only give the dog love, and overlook the other needs of the dog. To a dog, constant affection without rules and limits goes against every grain in its instinct. While dogs enjoy being given affection, it does not satisfy the animal and it is not what makes them well balanced, stable minded, secure and happy. Dogs love affection, however that alone does not make a dog happy, satisfying its instincts do. You need to provide proper emotional stability in order to achieve this, and showing you have an orderly pack with rules to follow is what the dog needs.
A dog is an animal and does not possess the same reasoning skills as a human. Dogs do have emotions, but their emotions are different than those of humans. They are simple creatures with instincts, and their emotions lack complex thought process. They feel joy when they know you are pleased, they feel sad when someone dies. However, they do not premeditate or plan ahead, and do not dwell in the past or future. They live for whatever is happening at the moment.
Let’s say that you are upset over something that has happened in your life, for example, your girlfriend or boyfriend just broke up with you. Your dog will know you are upset, but it will not know why. Its interpretation of you will be that you have unstable energy and it will see you as weak.
Similarly, when a human shares its affection with a dog that is in any other state of mind but a calm, submissive one (for example, aggressive, obsessive, shy, skittish, fear or hyperactivity, etc.) and you give it a hug or pat it on the head and tell it all is OK, it is comforting to the human, but intensifies the dog’s current state of mind. You are telling the dog it is OK to feel that way. While a human feels they are comforting the dog, the dog sees it as a weakness, as you are not providing strong energy from which the dog can feed. If your dog has a traumatic experience and you show it affection during that time by trying to comfort it, rather than letting it work through the situation in its own mind and being a strong leader it can feed from, you leave it stuck in that state of mind. Later when your dog faces this traumatic situation again, when you comfort the dog, this intensifies the situation even more. You are creating the problem. Dogs do not see comfort and affection in the same way we humans see it. Dogs are always looking for a strong stable being to feed from.
On the same note: when a dog is constantly leaning on you, putting his paw on you, using his nose to make you pet him, and always feeling the need to be touching you in some way, this is not your dog loving you, it is your dog displaying dominant behaviors. In the dog world, space is respect. A dog that is constantly nudging you and leaning on you, is not only disrespecting you, it is being the alpha dog.
The result of many years of being treated like a human can be a problem. A dog is terrified of the thunder and fireworks she hears outside. This dog is in a weak state of mind. The humans comfort the dog in a way humans understand, but not in a way a dog can understand; the comfort means two different things to the human and the dog. The dog sees it as everyone around her being weaker than she is. For a dog to be in a weak state of mind, then to be surrounded by pack members who are in an even weaker state of mind, well, this really messes up a dog’s psyche and intensifies the fear. Keep in mind how the humans feel they are comforting, and how the dog instinctively does not see it that way.
This also holds true for dogs with medical issues. For example, if a dog has an operation and you feel sorry for the dog–at a time in the dog’s life when it needs a strong pack leader more than ever to feed from–you instead become weaker in the dog’s mind.
If you show weakness to your dog, the dog instinctually takes over the role of leader whether he wants to or not, because there must be a strong leader and an order in a dog’s pack. If the dog does not feel he is strong enough to handle the role of leader it can be very stressful, and even terrifying, for the dog to have such a heavy weight on its shoulders, as it tries to look after all of the humans around it. Humans often give the dog mixed leadership signals, which throw the dog off balance, confusing his psyche, and causing many of the psychological/behavioral problems we see in dogs today. Mental tension and energy build up within the dog, which lead to many common canine misbehaviors: eliminating in the house, obsessive behaviors, chewing on themselves, barking excessively, whining, destroying things in the house, obsessively digging, chewing the furniture, aggression towards other dogs, animals, or humans, and becoming just plain old uncontrollable (just to name a few). Whatever the problem is, it is more likely than not, traceable back to the way you treat your dog. In some cases it may appear the dog is just nuts, or psycho, and there is nothing one can do about it.
This is also the number one cause of separation anxiety. In a pack, the leader is allowed to leave; however, the followers never leave the leader. If your dog is instinctually seeing you as its follower and you leave it, the dog can be so mentally anguished that it will often take its frustration out on your house or itself.