If you wanted your dog to be able to see you in a crowd, the short answer to the question, "Does your Dog Need Glasses?" is yes, most definitely. But the long answer of why dogs see the world so very differently than we do needs a bit more explaining.
In last week's post, "Teaching Your Dog to Come," I cited some valuable scientific facts about a dog's visual capacities: namely, that they're very near-sighted. While humans rely on sight to interpret their world, dogs use their sense of smell to distinguish and recognize incongruities. Their ocular function is reduced to motion detection, greater dim light vision (known as crepuscular predatory vision), and with eyes positioned at the side of their head, a panoramic visual field -- limiting depth of field, while giving them a broader view. While people's sight specializes in binocular vision, radiant color and depth perception, dogs excel in alerting to the slightest movement in just about any light. Randy Kidd DVM offers a great summary of the dog's eye structure in the Whole Dog Journal.
So what, pray tell, does a dog's visual acuity have to do with training words like "Stay" and "Come," or helping dogs adjust to other nuances of living along side people? As it turns out, just about everything. Learning how dogs see and interpret their world will answer a plethora of queries from their responsiveness to training, to their on leash behavior and their reaction to day-to-day activities from approaching stairs and grates, to getting into a car and swimming pool etiquette.
When first coaching a client with their dog, I ask for a quick demonstration of their frustration. When the problem is off-leash behavior, I already know what I'm in for. My two-legged client stands still, voice raised and red in the face repeating "Come" as their dog stands a good distance away looking rather confused.
Is this belligerence canine style? Not usually -- at least not initially. When a dog stops dead and stares, they've generally lost their focal point, namely the person standing directly in front of them. Though the posture would be natural person to person, if you're standing in front of a dog you're aligned to their blind spot. As they lack binocular vision, they can't get a proper read on anyone who is standing directly in front of them. In the case of an owner beckoning in increasingly berated tones, a dog becomes further confused by their shift in manner and temperament. Contrary to a desired belief, dogs aren't born knowing the definition of "Come" or any other words, and like anyone would, they shy from human anger.
What aggravates these owners even more is when I step in. Raising my arms enthusiastically in my signature "Human Exclamation Point," I call to their aforementioned, but not-so-belligerent dog in a happy upbeat voice, and their dog comes running. Fortunately, my methods are easy to master and I like training people as much as I like teaching their dogs. Within an hour I can facilitate cooperation on both ends of the leash.
When a client expresses sympathy for a young puppy staircase, grate, or car resistance, or complains of their dog's poolside manner, I can predict their reaction with or without a demonstration. Why are so many dogs startled by these manmade anomalies? Visual confusion strikes again. Lacking depth perception and visual acuity that facilitates contrast awareness, these nuances seem like bottomless pits. While puppies and some dogs condition easily to them, trusting their owners and taking literally leap of faith, others need to cajoled with treats and calm, patient handling A technique I call body bracing can also support a dog both physically and emotionally as they acclimate to navigating.
So a quick review. Remember that your dog does not see the world as you do, and while he might very well need glasses, he'd never keep them on. We must learn to work with what we have. As dogs are frightfully nearsighted and possess a blind spot directly down the center of their face, you can further comprehend their reaction on leash behavior as their often positioned head-on when approaching a dog or stranger. If a dog had their druthers, they would approach side to side and sniff a backside fully as a means of a proper greeting. Front door greetings are similarly fraught with distress, resulting in reactive behavior that runs the gamete from excitable barking and jumping to growling and snapping when a stranger lingers in what dogs consider the mouth of their den. In these instances it's important to teach your dog to stand at your side or behind you and encourage your dog to reference your reaction before responding.
Since dogs are attracted to motion, it helps to include motion when encouraging your back to your side. Consider "Come" as the human phrase equivalent of the sports term, "Huddle!" It further helps to look and sound excited as though you've found prey or have an adventurous idea to share.
And speaking of sharing, please continue to leave your comments, experiences and ideas below. I enjoy responding and they help shape my future blog posts!
Stay tuned for my upcoming blog: Dogs, summertime safety and poolside manners.