The fifth thing that we know about dogs, and that needs to be applied to our dog training is that dogs live in the moment. This means that dogs do not dwell on the past nor plan for the future. The evidence that I have for this claim comes directly from dog behavior.
Dog behavior regarding the past
When dogs act they seem not to take into account previous experience. They do not behave like they remember the past.
For example, your dog knocked over the trashcan then you come home and scold him for going through the trash. The next day your dog knocks over the trash can again. Or, your dog eats dog poop and he gets terrible diarrhea, you put him on a rice and chicken diet to clear up his diarrhea, and a week later your dog eats more dog poop. Or, your puppy urinates on the floor, you see it awhile later and bring your puppy over to it, rub his nose in it, and clean it up. Then you notice he just urinated on the floor again and his body language clearly shows fear. Or a dog that chases cars gets hit, her mom gets her all healed up, but then she chases a car as soon as she is well enough to run. These are just a few examples, there are many more.
Dogs sometimes seem to have what we consider “memory.” This is an illusion. What we are actually seeing is learned association, the dog’s ability to be efficient, and also habitual behavior. This explains what we see when we ask a dog to heel, we stop walking and the dog sits. This also explains the “guilty” look that a dog may show when you return home to see that your dog knocked over the trash again.
Dog behavior regarding the future
Dogs do not seem to plan for the future. Feral dogs do not attempt to save food. They eat as much as they can from what is available. Dogs may hoard things like bones. I believe this is due to association, habit, and maybe instinct. Dog gets a bone and always chewed bone on his blanket. Dog takes bone to chewing spot and starts chewing. Then dog falls asleep and forgets about the bone. The next time he is given a bone he does the same thing.
Other mammals have shown that hoarding can be an instinctual behavior.
Squirrels, for example, hoard because it is the right time of year. They are not consciously preparing for the future.
I can teach a dog to fetch a slipper, then I can train a dog to fetch a slipper everyday without a command, but no one I know can teach a dog to fetch a slipper every day except Saturday and Tuesday. There is no evidence that dogs measure time in hours, days or weeks.
My final reason for believing that dogs show no awareness of the future is that dog body language is very expressive, but there are no postures that indicate future intent. A dog that is showing fear is expressing that she is currently fearful. She has no way of expressing when her fearful behavior will end. She can express when it had ended, when it has begun, but not when it will end or begin again.
Dog behavior in the present moment
It seems that to a dog’s mind, everything that a dog does he does now. Nothing he does is in the past, there is no past, nothing he does is in the future, and there is no future. There is the smell of that signpost now, there is food now, mom leaving is now, and dad not being here is what he is sensing now. The fact that dad was not always here does not bother your dog when dad is here now. The idea that dad will not always be here does not bother a dog as long as dad is here now.
To understand a dog’s present moment behavior you must also understand your dog’s body language, motivations, associations, and habitual behaviors. We must understand these things well in order for us to understand how our behavior affects our dog’s behavior. Dog’s body language are similar to human body language. The trick to understanding body language is being aware, and thinking about what you are seeing. Professional dog trainers spend a lot of time watching and thinking about dog behavior and body language. The fastest way to learn to understand body language is to work with an experienced professional dog trainer.
If you want your dog to sit tomorrow, you have to teach her to sit today. If you want your dog to stay off the couch when you move into your new place, you have to keep your dog off the couch now. If you want your dog to have a good habit, you have to enforce the habit at every opportunity, as the opportunity arises. If you want your dog to behave a particular way when you are not watching, you need to have your dog behave that way while you are watching.
The fifth thing that we know about dogs, that they live in the moment, is one of the hardest things to apply to our dog training practices. This is because it requires our attention and our awareness. It also requires quick almost instantaneous and correct action. It requires effortless action; It requires good habits, and good, effortless habits require lots of practice.