For me, the study of dog behavior is a fascinating topic, second only to spouse behavior and teenage daughter behavior and about as perplexing as presidential behavior.
You see, I’m an amateur behaviorist in the tradition of B.F. Skinner. Over the years, I’ve built up a library of books with titles like “How to Control Your Dog’s Criminal Tendencies,” the ever-popular “Freud for Four-legged Patients” and “The Wee-wee Pad or the Psychiatrist’s Couch?” My all-time favorites are by Cesar Millan, the renowned dog whisperer and canine therapist who wrote “How to Raise the Perfect Dog,” “Be the Pack Leader” and “The Short Guide to a Happy Dog.” All of which could serve as self-help guides for humans.
Imagine what a wonderful world this would be if someone wrote “How to Raise the Perfect Teenager” and “The Short Guide to a Happy Marriage” or “The Guide to a Short, Happy Marriage” and “Be the Pack Leader in Your Home.”
I’m not the pack leader in my family, and I’m not the alpha dog. I suppose I’m the misbegotten runt. My wife and four daughters do all the leading. It’s a well-known fact that once you fall from the top-dog position, another member of the pack will take over. That’s what happened to me. Instead of acting like a Doberman, I behaved like a Chihuahua.
As a result, my wife and daughters have been giving ME commands. “Dad, take my car for gas.” “Dad, pick up pizza on the way home.” “Dear (that’s my wife talking), go to the dump.” She thinks that by adding “dear” I’ll respond like a finalist at the Westminster Dog Show. “Fetch, Dad! Sit! Heel! Give me your paw!” I may as well be enrolled in father obedience school.
I’ve occasionally met men and women who apply the dog whisperer’s techniques in their relationships. You could call them “wife whisperers” and “husband whisperers.” Take, for example, the precept “an obedient dog is a happy dog.” These women and men subscribe to the corollary principle, “An obedient spouse is a happy spouse.”
I, too, have tried to apply Cesar’s tactics in my family dealings. As you know, the surest way to get a dog to obey you is to reward him with treats. If it works for one species, why not another? From time to time, I’ve used the reward system with my daughters, although the treats tend to be considerably more expensive than Milk-Bone biscuits. Tiffany’s always works. Something about that little blue box always gets the desired result, for a day or two.
There are many similarities between dogs and humans, and the latest canine research provides new insights into behavior that James Thurber first examined decades ago. A study published in Scientific Reports and conducted at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom found that puppies got more expressive when their owners were looking at them. I suspect this is a form of emotional manipulation that dogs devised over our 30,000 years together. Dogs know how to control us, although we think we control them. Science has even shown that staring into a dog’s dewy eyes gives you an oxytocin boost, which elevates your mood.
The most familiar dog expression is known as AU 101, aka the sad puppy face. Those little schemers raise their inner eyebrows and make big forlorn eyes that get you warm and fuzzy. Experts say this tactic is the primary factor in determining which dogs get adopted. Would you rather buy a snarling, growling dog or a dog that looks like Bette Davis and whimpers?
I’m convinced the cute puppy face can also be used by humans. For example, consider the guy who can’t find romance, the lost and lonely fellow who goes from dating site to pick-up bar with little success. His countenance suggests “l-o-s-e-r.”
However, with a little training at Cesar Millan’s school for rejected womanizers, he could learn to make the puppy dog face and melt the hearts of everyone from Emilia Clarke to Kathy Griffin.
Imagine his conquests once he raises his brows, widens his eyes and whimpers a little. Then, imagine how many more women he’ll attract if he wags his tongue and barks, while catching a Frisbee with his teeth. This could change the direction of dating in America, and men everywhere will proclaim, “Thank you, Cesar!”
You may contact Joe Pisani at firstname.lastname@example.org.