3 Reasons Dog Owners Think Their Dog Is Dumb

"When you get at the root cause, voila!, symptoms disappear on their own."

©Scott Sheaffer, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior

I hear it every day, "My dog is dumb."

To be sure, there are dogs that are, um, well, not as smart as others. However, almost all dogs are pretty bright and even the ones that aren't can do some pretty amazing things when taught using the correct methods.

I find there are three common obstacles that get in the way of owners truly appreciating how capable and smart their dogs really are.

Obstacle number one is what I call "SIDNEDO" (Same Input Does Not Equal Different Output - rhymes with "tornado"). This issue is somewhat self-explanatory.

Let me give you an example: A hyperactive dog who doesn't get the prescribed additional exercise and obedience training that are necessary to treat his hyperactivity will, most likely, remain hyperactive. If nothing changes - nothing changes. We can't expect dogs' behavior to transform when nothing is changing in their environment.

Obstacle number two has to do with patience. As much as dog owners may want their dog's behavior to improve overnight (or with the mere touch of a dog trainer's magic wand), it doesn't work that way. Dogs' behavior improves slowly over time in a good-day-bad-day fashion. I refer to this as "SARC" (Slowly Ascending Roller Coaster) - and yes, I do like acronyms, easier to remember. Improvement comes slowly with time and consistency of purpose on the owner's part. Please see graph below.


Obstacle number three I've named "TREE" (Treat Root causes to Eventually Eliminate unwanted behaviors). The name tells you everything you need to know about this obstacle.

Here's an example: A dog fearfully and submissively urinates every time an unfamiliar person comes over. The urination is a symptom; yelling at the dog and punishing him will actually make things worse. The real issue (i.e., root cause) is the fear and lack of confidence that the dog is feeling.

Desensitizing (i.e., making less sensitive to unfamiliar people) and counterconditioning (i.e., teaching to enjoy unfamiliar people) this dog to strangers hits at the root cause. When you get at the root cause, voila!, symptoms disappear on their own.

We sometimes need to stop and take a moment to evaluate why we feel our dog is incapable of changing his or her behavior.

When we do this, we almost always discover that our dog is smarter than we realized.