DEAR DIDI: We have a Rat Terrier, Danny, that is a very energetic little beast. He is so fun to watch when he is playing with his toys and he seems very devoted and loving towards his humans. I heard your lecture on the intelligence of dogs and was shocked to hear that Rat Terriers rank highly in that department. My husband is now convinced that our little guy may be the exception. His main argument to support that thought is that our dog sits on his lap, plays ball with him, and is fed by my husband yet when he comes home from work our dog goes ballistic. As my husband walks up the sidewalk to our home, Danny runs to the sofa in the front living room and practically attacks the window. His demeanor is not one of excitement that dad is home but rather that of a dog fending off an intruder. Danny then lunges at the front door while my husband is trying to come into the house. We have worried that Danny will bite him but he always seems to get happy suddenly the minute a foot comes in the door. What do you make of this behavior? It has been like 50 first dates with Danny. -Befuddled
DEAR BEFUDDLED: After a long arduous day at work, we all look forward to being greeted by our faithful dog upon arriving home. It can be a blow to our egos when the dog barely notices our arrival, or worse yet, treats us like they have no clue who we are. There is a simple explanation for Danny’s actions that I hope you will find, in the long run, is a very good thing.
The last decade has found humans changing their perceptions of dogs. They are no longer animals out in the backyard. Instead, they are more likely to be referred to as “4 legged children” that are afforded all the luxuries our budgets can bestow. This has given America’s dogs a better quality of life overall, but has also come with a few issues. We must remember that although we cherish our fuzzy kids, they are still dogs. They are an amazing species because they adapt to living side by side with us so readily. They have the same five senses consisting of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Your human child can look outside and SEE dad coming up the walk and easily recognize him by his facial features. Your fuzzy kid cannot. Human vision is by far our dominant sense which is actually fairly unique to our species. The sense of sight is low in the hierarchical list for your dog. His sense of smell and hearing are far superior to his sense of sight.
Modern science has been able to somewhat reproduce how a dog may view a scene compared to the way humans would. Our 4-legged friends have no perception of greens or reds and they desperately need glasses. Danny cannot actually visually recognize your husband as he approaches the house. His dominant sense kicks in the minute he smells dad’s foot as it comes through the door. Some people have set up a ‘coming home ritual’ that the dog can learn to recognize. If your husband always waved a certain way, whistled a special tune, or performed some other consistent action that was on a large enough scale for you dog to see from the house, Danny would instantly know it is Dad walking up. In the long run, Danny is doing his job alerting you to a possible intruder.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.