The Fake Throw
By Jamie Sharma
Ah, the fake throw. The one activity man thinks represents humans are smarter than dogs. We are all guilty of it. Out playing a game of fetch with your dog and the moment you pick up the ball the thought pops into your mind and you’ve sent your dog off on a mystery hunt for the ever elusive ball.
Are we really smarter? Does this activity prove it? Time and time again our dogs fall for the deceitful game. Are they just unable to remember? Do they not have the mental capacity to understand? Or are we really just assholes lying to our dogs, breaking the most basic trust exercise to be done with a dog.
Let’s dive a little deeper. Let’s ask the “why”, why do we lie to our dogs? Let’s go beyond the enjoyable moment the dog falls for our masterful trickery. Is it because we think we will be forgiven instantly with no consequences for our actions? At face value our dog doesn’t show the emotions indicating anything other than forgiveness so it’s easy to assume they just don’t have an emotional response, or do they? Maybe the reason is deeper. Is it a reminder who is more intelligent? Does it stroke our ego giving us a temporary false sense of control and importance? If you genuinely want to be the best teammate and leader to your dog, it is very important to understand your own “why“, but I’m getting off track here.
Let’s examine another point of view. Are WE smart enough to know, with certainty, what this actually does to our dog? Who’s to say dogs don’t feel defeated, let down or a loss of trust in us. If we strive to build strong relationships with our dogs, does this hinder that goal, despite how minuscule we view the trick? I’ll ask you this. If your smallest behavior or word can have such a profound effect on your child, spouse or friend, why wouldn’t the same be true for your dog? Mentioned in an article on Science Daily’s website, Stanley Coren PHD, of the University of British Columbia, states dogs' mental abilities are similar to a 2 to 2.5 year old human child. Can you imagine what the effects of continuous trickery to child would do long term? If not mentally damaging, in the very least, it would most definitely effect your relationship.
There are countless studies and experiments completed and documented in our efforts to understand our canine companions. Many of them outlining similarities between children and dogs. One such study done by Lisa Horn and colleagues, from the Vetmeduni’s Messerli Research Institute in Austria, suggests that the “Secure Base Effect” exists in the relationship between dog and owner. This originally referred to children experiencing and interacting with the environment around them, using their familiar caregiver as a “secure base”. The experiment they conducted resulted in a similar result with dogs and their owners. The desire to merely be in our company tells us our dog strives to understand us.
The moral of this story ladies and gentlemen is simply this. If you find yourself experiencing difficulty with your dog, whether they are not listening or you can’t seem to “connect” with them. In addition to training, I challenge you to evaluate your interactions with your dog. Are you playing the fake throw game or something similar in nature? If so, ask yourself the “why” question. I promise the answer goes deeper than "just for fun". Speaking from experience, discovering your own “why” will reward you with far more than just a better relationship with your dog.