Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dog talk with Uncle Matty: If it looks like a dog…

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.”

That’s writer Douglas Adams’ version, anyway. The point is, things usually are what they seem. The key is to treat them as such.

This cuts to the core of our relationships with our dogs. Understanding that your dog is a dog is the solid slab of concrete on which the rest of your relationship is built. Understanding what it means that your dog is a dog is our first priority as responsible dog owners.

The vast majority of the people who call me for help with their dog problems are actually, themselves, the real problem.

They refer to their dogs as their baby, their sweetheart, their cutie pie — terms usually reserved for a romantic partner. And yes, women are more likely than men to anthropomorphize their dogs.

Dog commands from these people sound a little something like: “Don’t do that.” “Don’t sniff there.” “Don’t you run away from me.” And none of those is decipherable to a dog.

This type of dog owner calls me because they’re convinced their dog is angry that they have to go to work in the morning, or he’s upset about their upcoming move to a new city, or he’s jealous because she’s started seeing someone new. Would you ask a horse whether he was content with his new stall? Why is it any different with a dog?

When most people bring a dog home, he becomes a full-fledged member of the family.

He’s lovingly welcomed into the nest, where he remains for about 15 years. As it should be. But he’s still a dog.

A woman called me recently to discuss her dog, who sleeps in her bed. “Why does he growl when I move around?” she asked. Because he thinks it’s his bed. He’s no longer being treated as a dog, he’s now confused, and here comes the trouble.

If you treat your dog like a dog, love your dog like a dog and train your dog to be the best dog he can be, you won’t confuse him — or yourself.

If you’re going to bring a dog into your home, into your life, you need to understand canine behavior. You need to educate yourself first, and then your dog, in order to bridge the communication gap.

Living with a dog when you have little to no understanding of canine behavior and when neither of you has been taught to effectively communicate with the other is like traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language: stressful at times and not nearly as fun as it would be otherwise.

But the saddest part of turning your dog into a person is that you inevitably lose sight of the dog. He becomes a surrogate child or a surrogate friend or a surrogate lover instead of the wonderful dog he is.

Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

Copyright 2013 Creators Syndicate Inc. 

Matthew Margolis


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