3. We Change Our Shape and Smell
Shoes, coats, wallets, briefcases, bags, and suitcases: countless smells cling to these items after we take them into shops and workplaces, then back to our dogs. Cleaning products, soaps, deodorants, and shampoos also change the scents our dogs are used to.
In their olfactory world, it must be puzzling for dogs to encounter our constantly changing smells, especially for a species that uses scent to identify familiar individuals and intruders.
4. We Like to Hug
How humans use their forelimbs contrasts sharply with how dogs do. We may use them to carry large objects a dog would have to drag, but also to grasp each other and express affection.
Dogs grasp each other loosely when play-wrestling, and also when mating and fighting. Being pinned by another dog hinders a quick escape. How are puppies to know what a hug from a human means, when that behavior from a dog might be threatening?
5. We Don’t Like to Be Bitten
Play-fighting is fun for many puppies and helps them bond with other dogs. Humans are much more susceptible to pain from playful puppy jaws than other dogs are, and so we can react negatively to their attempts to play-fight with us.
Dogs also “mouth” other dogs when playing, expressing affection, and communicating everything from “more” to “please don’t” to “Back off!”. So, naturally, they try to use their mouths when communicating with us and must be puzzled by how often we take offense.
6. We Don’t Eat Food from the Bin
Dogs are opportunists who naturally acquire food anywhere they find it. In contrast, we present them with food in dishes of their own.
Puppies must be puzzled by our reaction when we find them snacking from benches and tables, in lunchboxes and kitchen bins. We should not be surprised when dogs unearth food we left somewhere accessible to them.
7. We Share Territories
We visit the territories of other dogs, bringing back their odors, and allow unfamiliar human and canine visitors to enter our dogs’ homes. Dogs have not evolved to accept such intrusions and threats to their safety and resources.
We shouldn’t be surprised when our dogs treat visitors with suspicion, or when our dogs are treated with hostility when we bring them to the homes of others.
8. We Use Our Hands a Lot
Sometimes our hands deliver food, scratches, massages, and toys. Other times, they restrain dogs, trim nails, administer ointments or tablets, and groom with brushes and combs that may pull hair.
No wonder some dogs grow to fear the human hand as it moves about them. We can make it easier for dogs to accept many types of hand-related activities if we train them to cooperate with rewards.
On the whole, dogs show a remarkable ability to adapt to the puzzles we throw at them. Their behavioral flexibility offers us lessons in resilience and how to live simply and socially. Our challenge is to understand the absence of guile and malice in everything they do.