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September 13, 2013

The Old Trainer: Canine psychology allows you to understand your dog, yourself

Canine psychology allows you to understand your dog, yourself.

D ear Old Trainer: I find your discussions and explorations of “canine psychology” fascinating. It never occurred to me it existed and how important it is. I know your ideas work because I used them to train Charley, my 5-year-old basset hound, who I thought was a lost cause. Your advice worked, but I still don’t understand the part canine psychology played. Could you please explain it a little more?

– Stan, Sausalito

Dear Stan: Congratulations on the success with Charley. You raise a good point. It’s possible to train a dog without understanding canine psychology if someone shows you how. You don’t have to understand it for it to work, but it is an advantage if you do. Here’s why:

• The more you understand how your dog thinks the more pleasure you derive. You see the complexity of his thought process and the extent of his intelligence, and he becomes a thing of wonder.
• Your dog is predictable when you understand the psychology that drives him and training becomes easy. If not, you are caught off guard by the endless number of surprises he springs on you.

You end up saying the same thing Austrian uber-diplomat Prince Metternich said upon hearing that Talleyrand, his arch rival in devious diplomacy, had died, “Now I wonder why he did that.”

All trainers know the main reason people find it so difficult to train their dogs is because they use human psychology to do it. It is as senseless as using canine psychology to train a human.

Most humans don’t even understand their own psychological compulsions. Eric Fromm summarized it nicely when he said, “Man is the only animal for whom his existence is a problem which he has to solve.”

Dogs are different. They don’t worry about the past, don’t waste time contemplating the future, don’t obsess about their problems. They live in the minute. They have a perfect day with the ones they love, have beautiful dreams while they sleep, and can’t wait to wake up because they know tomorrow will be perfect too. Dogs are universally happy and well adjusted.

The foundation of canine psychology, the thing upon which everything your dog does is based, is the protocol of the pack – the leader gives the orders, the pack obeys, and everyone gets along. That’s all there is to it. All dogs long to be in a pack, love everyone in the pack, and for the pack to have a good leader.

Once your dog is convinced you are a leader all you have to do is show him what you want him to do and he will do it. If you don’t know how to be a leader, go to YouTube, view the documentary Wolves at Our Door, and watch Kamatz, the pack leader, conduct a master’s class in leadership. You can find it at

There is a lesson in this beautiful documentary that is even more important than learning how to be a leader. You will discover a secret many dog owners already know: The more you understand canine psychology, the better you understand yourself.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to

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