I was once invited to speak for a Golden Retriever club with the request that I adjust all my training advice so that it applied to Golden Retrievers. Instead, I suggested that we talk a lot about other breeds, how they learn, how they play, how they move, think, solve problems. I told the lady who invited me to speak about Golden Retrievers that the club members would learn more about Goldens if they understood better what a Golden wasn’t.
Perhaps it’s worth taking that concept a bit further. What can we learn about dogs by paying more careful attention to ducks, say, or moose, bears, whales, cats, mice, even fish. I’m not talking about training these creatures, but watching them and asking oneself questions.
Self, you might ask, how does the mother duck teach her young the lessons they need to thrive as adults? Can a moose understand the intentions of a human, or of a dog? What do bear cubs learn when they wrestle and play (and how is this similar to and different from the way wolf cubs wrestle and play?) When a cat wags his tail, does it have the same meaning as when a dog wags his tail? (I thought I should toss in an easy one!) And the basic question, why? Why is that creature doing what it’s doing? What is it trying to accomplish?
Now, with a fresh way to look at your dog, can you ask yourself similar questions. You can quietly observe dogs at play, dogs working, dogs competing, dogs eating, dogs meeting strangers, dogs greeting friends and you can ask yourself the purpose of the behavior you are watching, and then the purpose beneath the purpose.
When is a dog not a dog? Well, never. But watching other creatures can sometimes teach you more about what a dog is by showing you what he might have in common with other animals and how he is different.