BEHAVIOUR COLUMNS

  

Please note that Steve is taking a break from writing about canine behaviour for the printed news media. He will, however, insert random articles as written over the last 10 years at two weekly intervals.

ARTICLE

RIGHT AND WRONG.

It is wonderful to see how many pets have a good quality of life. But what I find disappointing is that modifying behaviour incorporates beatings, leash jerking, shouting or kicking accompanied by irritation or anger. People mostly live that which they learnt as children. Normally adults who were disciplined physically will carry on the tradition with their own children or pets.

Dogs or puppies are incapable of understanding right or wrong. They do not have a moral intelligence and therefore are not capable of experiencing feelings of shame, guilt, feeling foolish or embarrassment. Therefore words such as punish, reprimand or discipline are not applicable, but rather shaping of, or modification of behaviour.

Many times people have told me that their pets were aware of the commission of some sort of `offence’. For instance, “I shook the dead chicken in my dog’s face and it knew it had been naughty”. I then ask, “Is that the last chicken that was killed?”, “No, it is still doing it.” Therefore it stands to reason that if the pet was able to understand about the legalities of chicken killing then surely there would be no more repetitions. I then get the owner to agree with me that by addressing the dog with the dead chicken they are referring it back to a past event. I then ask them whether they tell their dog to sit for food to which they reply in the affirmative. “O.K., then please call your dog over and tell it that when it was fed last night it produced a very lovely sit. Or, tell your dog that you expect a perfect sit when presented with food later that evening.” Obviously nobody has ever carried out my request simply because it makes no sense.  The point is, why is it possible to refer a dog back in time to “wrong” behaviour, but it cannot be referred back or forward to “right” behaviour?

People also tell me that their pet knows it has been bad because its ears are pinned back with lowered head and tail. I then ask them to stare at their pet, count from one to ten with a loud voice and pretend they are angry. When they do this the pet immediately produces `submissive’ behaviour and the owner then realises the pet is responding to their raised voice and body language.

A dog’s behaviour is associated with everything that takes place in the moment, through their senses. If a stimulus has enough impact on their psyche, it will produce a response. These responses are either determined by their instinctive intelligence or that which they remember from a past happening. To be able to refer back to a past or future event, dogs must be able to think, analyse, wonder about, ponder, mull over and so on. Their minds do not have these abilities.

So, in human terms, when regarding moral intelligence, a dog has the same abilities as that of a six month old baby.

Who beats, or shouts at a baby? Only those who are mentally or emotionally disturbed, or who are under the influence of some mind altering substance.