How dogs “see” the world
While dogs don’t see the range of colors we do, they do see colors. But more importantly, They don’t rely on their eyes the way most people do. A huge portion of the human brain is dedicated to processing what our eyes take in. We even manipulate it to “see” things that aren’t there. For example, many animals can’t figure out that there is a picture of dogs above because their brain doesn’t create a depth of field in their mind’s eye.
But dogs do perceive the world in as much detail, if not more detail, than we do. While our brains are wired to process visual input like crazy. Dogs’ brains process scent like crazy. Imagine smelling your way to work or through a grocery store. Imagine if every time you saw someone, you could smell where they’d been, what they’d eaten, who they had touched.
When you or I come to a new place, or experience, usually the first thing we do is look at it, the colors, the shapes, the light, what’s moving, what’s still. It’s why the lights get dimmed during a concert. To stop you from using that primary sense organ and try to concentrate on a secondary one.
A dog’s primary experience of the world is through their nose. They can smell your foot print, and it’s age, and thus in which direction you are moving. They can smell what you ate yesterday, they can smell you co-workers cat on you, even if you haven’t met the cat.
And while dogs are very smart there is one thing they don’t do well, at least as far as we are concerned. Dogs are not good at Generalizing. If you teach a dog to sit in the living room, he or she will not always realize that sit means sit in the kitchen. If another person asks the dog to sit in the living room, the dog may not realize that this person also knows what sit means. And sit doesn’t always mean sit, because sometimes SQUIRREL!!! And SQUIRREL!!!! is more important.
In our world, this can lead to problems. After a handler has taught their dog to sit, they might assume that when the dog doesn’t sit, it’s misbehaving or defying the handler. It’s probably not. But what many handlers do is say sit again and again, and then scream sit at the dog and even worse. This is fundamentally not understanding the way the dog thinks and can border on, or become abuse.
A handler’s job involves realizing that when a dog isn’t “listening” there are usually just two reasons. The dog doesn’t understand or the handler doesn’t understand. You would never ask a dog to sit in the middle of a busy street. Like wise, why would a dog sit if it sensed danger? You might not understand what that danger is (the crazy guy who just walked past on a walk) and maybe the dog feels a danger you know isn’t one (the vacuum cleaner).
But if it’s the dog not understanding what you said, there’s a simple solution that you and the dog will love. More practice helping the dog generalize. And more practice means more communication and more quality time and more love.