By Scott Hunt
The Dog Grumbler
I KEEP returning to memory when I talk about dog/human interaction.
Memory is essential to teaching and learning — we know this, but we should not forget that human and canine memories are very different.
Visual information carries a lot of weight with humans; we see more colour and more depth — and from a much higher viewpoint.
A dog’s eyes see movement and texture, so they remember different things about what they see — and to see what’s up ahead they have to go there.
With dogs it’s about smell. With most mammals it’s about smell.
It’s a primal sense, but with humans, who can use words and grammar (and whose noses pale by comparison to most creatures), smell is way down the list of priorities.
Still, we remember it.
It’s trivial in our human world, yet we remember smells for years, decades even.
Most animals are being bombarded with olfactory data by comparison.
They don’t mind; they just don’t have lots of time for stuff only you and I can see or possibly hear about.
They say an elephant never forgets.
Trust me, neither does a horse or a cow or a pig or a butterfly.
Your dog remembers every human and every dog it meets.
It remembers not the landmarks, but the scent tapestry through which it travels — even driving around in your car.
It associates smells with events and rituals and needs lots of sleep to process impressions into memory.
Many trainers and behaviourists suggest that two walks a day is enough to keep a dog satisfied, but I think social outings and new places and experiences are important too.
When I collect Pippa the Schnoodle, she expects me because her family has done things she recognises — and which they may not even know about — that mean I’m due.
She waits at the window and doesn’t get excited until I exit the car.
The car is just another big shiny thing to Pippa, but she knows the way I move.
She comes through the front door at a gallop and she is going nowhere but into my back seat.
Pretty soon she knows we’re headed for one of the dog parks; she’s smelled this route before.
This week we’ve collected Poppy the Labradoodle, who is learning our routines and rituals quickly.
When we arrive at the dog park, they both exit the car and make a beeline for the gate because they love it in there.
We walk, we stop and sit.
They socialise and check back in at intervals.
When it’s time to go I rattle my keys and Pippa is at my side.
After a while Poppy catches on and catches up.
I leash her at the gate; we have some interesting things to pass on the way to the car and she’s only done this a couple of times.
I’m pleased to see it was unnecessary; I open the door and she jumps in right behind Pippa.
Poppy learns fast.
I will stop at the supermarket, drive home and do some gardening, then hit another dog park — or return to the same one — the repetition of the rituals, the sequence of events, overlaid with smells of the journeys and locations are what Pippa knows and what Poppy is learning.
In between they hang out and smell the world in good company.
For a dog, an off-leash park is a party.
Visiting several is painting the town red.
They will win some treats with a short obedience session when I take each home and when they sleep, they will store away the new memories and dream of next week.
They have different rituals and habits at home but eagerly learn mine and take up where we left off whenever I see them again, even months later.
As Poppy gets used to the routines, she will adapt this behaviour to fit new locations and situations.
As we move through the world together, my smell is part of the tapestry and she will learn to stick with me and trust me to perform the same routines and share the same rituals.
And if I don’t see her for months, even years, she will smell me when next we meet and think “party.”