Can Dogs Feel Respect?

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Introduction

The most obvious answer to this question is yes, our dogs do have the ability to feel respect. The real question is, how is it that we can get our dogs to not only feel respected by us, but to show respect to us? 

A dog's ability to feel respect is rooted in their inherent instincts as a pack animal, that is, in order be a part of a pack, a dog must feel respected for their fellow pack members, as well as receive respect from them. Learning to develop a respectful, trusting, and loving relationship with your pup is something every dog owner is capable of doing. 

But it's also not something that just happens overnight. Knowing the signs of respectful behavior and learning how to reinforce it are some of the first steps you will need to take to when working with your pup. 

Signs Your Dog is Feeling Respected

Signs your dog is likely to show when they are feeling respected are the same signs you would expect to see in dogs who have developed healthy relationships with their owners, and the other members in their pack. This includes responding to commands made by members of the pack, especially the leader, if the dog has received some form of obedience training (see training section). 

A dog developing a healthy attachment style, more specifically, being securely attached to their pack, is another indicator that they feel respect and comfort. Signs that they are securely attached include a lack of anxiety when left alone, a generally satisfied demeanor, as well as a welcoming attitude towards strangers and those unfamiliar to the pack.

The signs you would notice in your dog if they are not feeling respect from those around them can be quite negative. These signs could include aggressive behaviors, such as barking, baring teeth, or even becoming defensive against those who may seem to pose a threat. Other negative signs dogs are likely to show when feeling a lack of respect, or even disrespect, are defiant behaviors (lack of listening, destructive behaviors, or intentionally misbehaving). Noticing and reacting to these signs are key to developing a respectful relationship with your pooch.

Body Language

These are some signs your dog is likely to show when they are feeling and giving respect:
  • Wag tail
  • Raise ears
  • Head bobbing
  • Tail up
  • Tongue hanging
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

Some other signs to watch for include:
  • Letting you go first through doorways
  • Listening and responding to your instructions
  • Being able to handle being alone
  • Maintaining a relaxed demeanor

The Science Behind Dogs Feeling Respect

Our understanding of whether or not dogs have the ability to feel respect lies in what we have come to learn about dogs' emotions. Over the past few decades, with advancements in medical technology and expansions in the field of neuroscience, scientific interest in the topic of dogs' emotions has continued to grow. With studies consistently supporting the notion that dogs do have the capacity to feel emotions, it seems our dogs are capable of both feeling and giving respect. 

Advancements in medical technology have not only benefited scientists in better understanding the human brain, but they have also come to learn much more about the brains of canines. For starters, recent studies on emotions in dogs have focused on identifying the brain structures involved in feeling emotions, such as the Caudate nucleus. To do this, researchers needed to be able to actually examine the brain structures within dogs, using technologies such as M.R.I. scanning machines, while dogs are exposed to certain conditions.  

One study, in particular, aimed to examine whether the Caudate Nuclear in dogs acted similarly to that in humans, which was exactly what they found. The Caudate nucleus is associated with learning and is activated in a human brain when we are expecting something we enjoy to happen.

The 12 dogs in this study were placed in an M.R.I so that their brain activity could be measured and recorded while they were put through different experimental conditions. One condition in particular required a familiar person to the dog to enter and leave the room they were in, and it was during this condition it was found the Caudate Nucleus showed increased activation.

Researchers concluded the familiar smell of the human is what caused the activation, which is what we also find when a human is exposed to the smell of a preferred food. Overall, this study showed us the similarities between the brain structures in dogs and humans, supporting the notion that dogs have the capability to feel emotions, including respect. 

Training Your Dog to Act More Respectful

There are a variety of ways you can go about developing a mutually respectful relationship with your pooch. The following are just a few of the methods and strategies you should consider when building your bond with your pup:

 1. Establish Your Role as the Pack Leader:  Respect is not something that is just given, it's earned, and therefore you need to prove yourself as a leader in order for your dog to show you respect. For dogs, leaders are the most important member of the pack, as they are the ones who the pack looks to for directions and for protection. They are the strongest in the pack. This means the leader should literally always be the one leading the pack when it comes to walking, or even answering the door. Establishing that you’re the leader will take time, consistency, and mutual respect on your part. 

2. The Golden Rule “Treat your dog how you want to be treated”: Like any human member of your pack, you want to be sure to treat your dog the way you want to be treated. In other words, be mindful of how you react and interact with your dog. Maintaining a healthy, emotionally balanced relationship is key to receiving respect from your pooch. This means, when interacting with your dog, you should always be calm and collected. This may seem hard when we find ourselves in situations where we want to lose all control and really have it out on our pooch for doing whatever unbelievable thing they did, but it’s those times that it’s the most crucial to remain calm and reflect on how you’re going to act before making your first move.

3. Maintain Your Cool When Reacting to Behaviors: One of the fastest ways for you to lose your dog’s respect is by being physically abusive or responsive to their behaviors. As much as it may seem your dog deserves a rough pull on the collar or a whack on the nose, overreacting to your dog’s actions puts you at risk of being seen as an unstable, imbalanced leader, diminishing your credibility with your pooch and overall resulting in them losing respect for you. Of course, there are times your dog needs to be corrected, but a quick, sharp, correction is different from blowing up on your dog, showing them you can’t keep your cool!

4. Set Rules, Make Commands, but also Show Your Dog Love and Affection: Establishing rules with your dog is one of the most important steps to creating a respectful relationship. Creating rules for your pup isn't the hard part, though. What's hard is maintaining your rules and being consistent. Like any child, your dog is likely to test their limits to the rules you set out, and when they do this, it's important you are consistently responding to each challenge they make, letting them know you are in charge and that you deserve respect from all your pack members, including your pooch. Don't forget though, dogs are like children, in that they need to be loved and cared for and therefore being affectionate towards your dog is also a necessary step to creating a respectful relationship.

5. Use Consistent, Repetitive Positive Reinforcement Techniques: When training your dog, it’s important they know that you are the one with the power to reward their behavior, helping ingrain the idea that you’re the pack leader. Regular, daily, obedience training will definitely help them get that message. All this takes is five to ten minutes out of your day where you practice giving your dog basic commands (such as sit, lay down, roll over, and stay), and reward their obedience with a treat or toy. Doing this regularly will inevitably result in the development of a reciprocal relationship, characterized by mutual respect for one another.

How to React if Your Dog is Being Disrespectful:

  • If your dog has become aggressive, be sure to extinguish the behavior either by reprimanding them or removing them from whatever situation has caused their reaction.
  • Maintain calm and keep your cool - it's important your dog sees you as a strong leader.
  • If you find your dog will not listen or respond to your commands, it’s important to re-establish your role as the pack leader (see training trips).

Tips to Consider When Your Dog is Developing Respect:

  • Keep calm and train on. As hard as it sounds, your demeanor is key to how your dog interprets your status as leader.
  • Patience is important. Remember, dogs are like children and don't learn something the first time you tell them.
  • Don't give up on your pup. Make short-term, achievable goals when developing your relationship with your dog, so you can see and feel all the success you make together.