Humans were raised to be polite… For the most part. When asked a question, we answer. We say things such as “Thank you!” or “Good morning!”. A constant, cheery flow of feedback towards others’ actions is a must in our society to be liked, loved, hired or simply accepted. Which is a great thing – there can sometimes never be enough politeness and friendliness.
Dogs, as well as most other animals, don’t see this as necessary. If a dog walks up to another dog wagging, grinning and strikes a play pose, sometimes the other dog will simply ignore it. That’s okay. The playful pooch will shrug and go off to find another playmate or just a stick to chew. No hurt feelings and it is not perceived as rude or “ignoring” in the negative sense. In a canine community, ignoring another means, “Everything is fine, relax. I don’t feel like doing ____ right now, maybe another time.”
Now, this huge “cultural” difference (seeing it as a cultural difference might make it easier to compare) is where many misunderstandings arise in dog-human relationships. Even subconsciously, we feel the need to “answer” all of our dogs’ “questions”. What do I mean by that? Say your dog brings you a ball. You react in some way and by doing that you are answering their question. When it comes down to it, we can’t not answer the question. Just as we can’t not communicate. Everything we do, say, feel or express in some way is communicating something.
So. You can look at your dog and do something with the ball, or simply ignore the whole situation completely. It is good to do a mixture of both. If you feel like it, play with your dog. If you don’t, don’t. Either way, your dog won’t think badly of you. It may come up that dogs who are used to always getting their questions and requests answered by their humans (aka their personal slaves), might show signs of frustration when confronted with a person who ignores them. This will only last a short while before they realize that nothing comes from their persistence.
Being polite, to dogs, has a different meaning than it does to humans. You are not entitled to react or to respond. This is normal. Mother dogs will teach their puppies to handle frustration from an early age by “closing the milk bar” early. Say all of the puppies want to drink. She might mentally shrug and say, “Nah, I don’t feel like it right now” and just walk off. The puppies will whine and feel restless for a short while before settling down to play or sleep. Once it has all calmed down, the mother will come back to nurse them. This is a perfect example of rewarding the correct, calm behavior and simply ignoring the unwanted one. It is not physical or vocal punishment – it is training with frustration and knowing that we don’t have to answer all of their questions.
What are your thoughts on this? I would love to hear all about it in the comments. Let’s keep this conversation going!