The notion of fairness doesn’t exist in the canine world. It’s a human construct. For the dog, relations are defined in terms of well-being, felt partly in the presence of others (humans or animals) and partly with respect to the environment. But as masters, how do we know if we are “fair” with our dog?
Science confirms it: the idea of fairness doesn’t exist for dogs. When your dog has a hangdog expression, you feel guilty, sometimes to the point of feeling unfair. However, this is only a human sentiment. The dog doesn’t want it of you. The dog is not resentful and isn’t looking for vengeance, contrary to received wisdom. In reality, the idea of fairness depends only on your own conception of this term, and your representation of training. “The important thing is to define coherent rules, and always stick to them,” explains Dr Stéphane Tardif, vet in Neuilly sur Seine. And to insist that: “the other members of the family must also respect these rules so as not to disturb the animal”. In fact, the dog cannot understand that behaviour can be authorised by some humans but not by others. “This type of incoherence can cause anxiety and requires more effort by the dog,” explains the vet.
In the same way, the notions of vengeance or jealousy don’t exist for dogs. “Even when putting its head on the hand to steal caresses from the other: it is not for fear of missing, dominating the jealousy, that comes into play, but simply the interest in having the owner’s attention,” explains Dr Tardif. Likewise, in a group of dogs, there is no point giving a different toy to each one, thinking that you are being fair and even handed: for the dog, the toy being played with by another dog is always more interesting! To avoid disputes, always keep an eye on dogs when playing together. And when the game is over, tidy away the toys in a box.
« It is therefore important to remember that to be fair with your dog, you must first set out the criteria of fairness for us, the humans, and with the whole family, to then have a relationship of well-being with the dog », says Dr Tardif.
A good way to develop a “fair” relationship with your dog, which will be a source of its well-being, is to train it on the basis of positive reinforcement. This training technique consists of congratulating and encouraging your dog to adopt the behaviour you expect. In practice, it means rewarding your dog’s good attitude. Does it come when you call? Give it a treat. Does it obey the order to “sit”? Congratulate it again. Further, it is recommended, especially if you have a puppy in the middle of training, always to keep treats to hand. You can distribute them in different rooms around the house, tidied away in snack boxes. “The choice of training method is part of the rules to establish in the relationship with the dog. Positive training, as a new method having shown convincing results, and guaranteeing a relationship based on positive contacts, is a fair choice according to our human criteria, because it leaves the dog to learn and develop itself,” concludes Dr Tardif.