Living In The Moment

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chihuahua hiding under a chair
This moment is a scary one

Of all of the silly things I hear in regard to dog behavior the proclamation that ‘dogs live in the moment’ perhaps takes the cake. It is usually used to criticize owners for being understanding of their dog’s past and that unlike humans, that past doesn’t effect them. They are furry zen masters of ‘be here now’.  The idea that it is the owner’s response to their dog’s fearfulness or reactivity that is the cause of a dog’s behavioral problem, not the animal’s history, is an uninformed one.

I’m going to back pedal here for a moment because certainly an owner’s response to their dog can and does effect their dog’s behavior, but to lead people to believe that the events, or lack of them, in a dog’s life have no impact on their current behavior is wrong. It makes no sense for an animal to simply ‘forget’ about things that they felt threatened by in the past. If that was the case then training, whether using rewards or punishment, would be a waste of time, what they learned today wouldn’t matter tomorrow.

Whether a dog is consciously thinking about a scary past event, or is responding based on how they were classically conditioned to respond, may remain a mystery to us as we work with our dogs. Though our dogs may not be worrying about the security of a bone they buried last week (or they might be!), they may be concerned about something that scared them last year. The more potent the emotional charge an event has for a dog, the more likely it will be remembered, consciously or unconsciously, and matter. And that we know something is safe or inconsequential doesn’t matter. There are plenty of people deathly afraid of things that have never harmed them or even have the potential to harm them.

Handlers do need to be aware that a dog’s behavior may be affected by their response to a situation. But they should never downplay the effect prior experiences can have on a dog’s ability to cope with the moment they are in.

1 thought on “Living In The Moment”

  1. I’m always amazed how so many people misunderstand Cesar’s principles. He doesn’t mean that the dog’s past is unimportant or that we shouldn’t take it into account – he means that it shouldn’t compromise how we treat the dog *today*. It’s more along the lines of “seize the day” or “if you fall off a horse you should get right back on it.” You can’t help someone get over a depression or a phobia or a trauma by coddling them and feeling sorry. You have to help them get back up and face the day – you have to be their anchor, not their blanket. My father is dying of ALS – a slow, debilitating process. Do you think he enjoys people tip-toeing around him, feeling sorry for him and being miserable around him because of this? Of course not. If a dog was traumatized in his prior life, do you think it enjoys people tip-toeing around it, feeling sorry for it and being miserable around it because of this? Again, of course not – that attitude just feeds the negativity and *keeps* the dog unhappy because everyone around is miserable. If the human moves on, the dog will move on – doesn’t mean you don’t care, just means that you’re looking forward, not backward. That’s what “living in the moment” means. My dad is dying, but he’s not dead *today*; if a dog was abused before rescue, it’s not being abused *today*.

    Cesar doesn’t “criticize owners for being understanding of their dog’s past”, he criticizes them for being overly dramatic about something that happened in the past. He doesn’t ask them to overlook it, he asks them to get past it. Look at accident victims and their physiotherapists – if the PT coddled the victim the way many owners coddle their dog, the patient would NEVER get better. Same thing with cognitive behavioral modification, athletic training, even military bootcamp. Same thing with your 3-year-old scraping his knee. Check the knee – treat the knee – send the kid back out. No drama from you = no drama from the kid. It’s one of those amazingly simple lessons that modern humans are forgetting – our kids, our pets and our society are now paying for it.


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