Human Behavior And The Limits Of ‘Dogmanship’
Many dog advocates believe that solving a dog’s behavior “problems” involves training human companions as much, or more, than training the dog. Indeed, communication between the dog “trainer” and the dog herself is crucial. This can be affected by a variety of seemingly small factors that can sometimes be missed with the naked eye. A person’s dog handling abilities, sometimes referred to as “dogmanship,” are largely focused on human behavior. There are types of dogmanship that can help improve the relationships between dogs and humans, as well as between dogs and other dogs.
In previous studies, “lag sequential analysis” – looking at the length of time between a command and the resulting action – has been used to identify the probability of certain behavior occurring based on social and/or environmental contexts. The technique, researchers say, can highlight what comes before a given behavior, and the immediate consequences. According to the researchers, this study is the first examination of dog-human interactions using this particular approach. They hoped to examine how dog attention and response are affected by human behavior, and in turn, “how humans may respond to putative indications of dog affective state and attention.”
In this study, the researchers built on previous studies of dogmanship by focusing on the “lie down” command for dogs. Their hypothesis was that people with better dogmanship skills would have better success in delivering the command successfully. An interesting aspect of this study was that the researchers based their analysis on YouTube videos as their source material, using a specific set of search terms. Analyzing 43 videos, the researchers found that there was a significant relationship between human behavior and the amount of attention that dogs gave to people.
Likewise, all of the humans in the analysis seemed to be “sensitive” to the affective states of their dogs. Interestingly, the study found that food rewards may temporarily compromise a dog’s attention and should be done carefully to maintain a connection with the trainer or guardian. In other words, capturing a dog’s attention is time-sensitive, and that attention wanes almost immediately after delivering a reward. Additionally, the researchers found that human behavior is reciprocally influenced by dog behavior, as humans are “responsive to dogs’ attentional focus.”
The results of this study may be useful for people living with dogs, shelter workers, dog trainers, and anyone else who regularly works with one or more dogs. The study’s findings are not necessarily groundbreaking. However, they do reinforce the notion that dog behavior and human behavior is interdependent. Addressing behavior problems in dogs requires also addressing problems in people.