In 2018, we were asked to write a new column in the Guernsey lifestyle magazine GYone. But this was not to be any ordinary column - it was to be written from a dog's perspective. Murphy has since launched his column and has been hard at work for the last few months, writing about topical issues in the modern dog training world. We've had a lot of positive feedback from readers, who have found that the articles have helped them to understand their dogs better. And therefore we wanted to share Murphy's words of wisdom with you too. So that you can be sure as to who is writing - whether it is Anna or Murphy - we will call his posts as 'Murphy Writes'.
Many people think a dog’s life is easy. We eat, we sleep, we play, we walk and then each day that cycle starts all over again. But in truth, our lives aren’t as easy as you think they are. Each of us were bred by humans to do different things, my mother for example is a cocker spaniel, bred to be working all day as a gun dog. Some dogs were selected and bred to guard livestock and homes, some were bred to work all day herding sheep and others were bred to be hunters. Now, people mostly want us to be their companions and conform to their human ways of life and I’ll be honest, this can be quite tough! While indeed some breeds were intended to be companions from the outset, all of us dogs have canine instincts, some of which even date back to our ancestor, the grey wolf. Unfortunately though, humans tend to forget that and that’s where we run into difficulties.
Humans expect a lot from us. Although we’re a different species and communicate in different ways, we’re often expected to know what they want us to do without even being shown. We are so desperate to please that we frantically try and work it out, but if we don’t get it right or we get confused and try to tell them, they bark at us, they huff and they puff and some of my unfortunate peers will also get a harsh punishment. How is that fair? Humans simply expect too much from us.
Now, I see myself as one of the lucky ones – I have an owner that was so intent on understanding my species and behaviour that she researched and studied it. Now together, we are trying to educate dog owners in Guernsey how us canines see the world. The world isn’t all about money and success for us, nor is it just about cocking our leg up lamp posts and trees. It’s about exploring and getting used to our surroundings, getting our exercise, using our brains and having the very best relationships with our humans. If we feel fulfilled and if we are understood, we will live happy fuss free lives.
In this new column, I’m going to try and describe to you how we learn, how we perceive certain situations and what you as a dog owner can do to help us out. The first topic – one that I know all owners struggle with – lead walking. Like all pups, when I first learnt to walk on the lead, it felt a little strange! Suddenly, I was attached to my human by a relatively short piece of material and they were dragging me around left, right and centre. But as I started walking the first few times, I learnt that if I wanted to walk in one direction and pulled, they would follow and come with me. Great, I thought – that’s the way to do it! But to be honest, while it meant I could go in the direction I wanted, it wasn’t a particularly nice feeling. I was straining. Then shortly after that, my training started and suddenly if I pulled, they wouldn’t come with me. It didn’t work anymore. They would change direction and then I started to learn that actually it was much easier and nicer to walk next to my owner. I was getting a treat and a click when I was next to them and the lead was slack. Because I was clicker trained and because I was getting a reward with the treat, I knew I was doing something right. Pulling didn’t get the click but being next to my owner did. Walking next to my owner is still reinforced every now and then today and to be honest, most of the time I forget whether I’m on the lead or not!
The problem with lead walking in when most dogs pull, their owners go with them. Like me when I was small, I believed that was the right thing to do because it was reinforced. But then when I was actually shown what I needed to do, I got it. Now I have pleasurable walks and both my humans and I enjoy them. I often see other dogs taking their owners for a walk – their owners struggling to catch up, tripping over themselves and shouting expletives at their furry friend. But it’s not the pups being naughty, they just haven’t been taught what to do. So if you have a problem with your dog pulling on the lead, you know what to do – teach them instead to walk next to you.