Are Dogs Machines?

The belief that dogs are machines is still going strong today. This has given way to the pervasive belief that nothing exists inside their head but a set of mechanical, conditioned responses.

That belief has given rise to training regiments that condition dogs -- primarily through the use of food -- to associate food with all events in their life. If they are aggressive, distract them with food. If you want them to sit, give them food. When they do something well, give them food. When they meet a stranger, have the stranger give them food.

The belief is that only by associating food with fearful times, this will help them to overcome fear. No other importance is given to their complex emotions that change over time, their developmental stages, their sense of attachment to family -- and how that connection instills security.

Little emphasis is given to their abilities to plan, innovate solutions, manipulate people just like children, to be creative using imagination, and to feel real empathy; to play, to teach one another, to formulate complex interpersonal relationships that compensate for the skills of others, to intuit situations, to make decisions based on statistical analysis of situations. Instead their entire existence is reduced down to a dry set of associations.

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For more information about dog cognition order Three Dimensional Dog, A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior, and learn to see dog behavior in a new way.

Aaron McDonald is a canine behaviorist, cognitive theorist, and author. He can be reached at or at

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