Are assumptions part of your daily routine?

The topic of today’s blog applies to both human and animal behaviour, humans being animals with the ability of more complex thought processes than four legged animals. How often do you hear someone say something about you that demonstrates their knowledge of your behaviour is based on many incorrect assumptions? tells us that the noun Assumption is a very ancient word that in its earliest use meant arrogance, as in this 1814 quote from Sir Walter Scott: “his usual air of haughty assumptions. They define the word as:

“Something taken for granted; a supposition

People who are prone to assumptions, when challenged, are unable to tell you the facts they base their assumptions on but will reply something like “it is true because I believe it to be true”.

Where do the assumptions we make come from?

Our thought processes are based on a complex mix of genetics (nature) which is hardwired into our DNA and environment or learning (nurture) which involves all the situations we have been involved in for our entire life, right back to the millisecond of our conception. Each situation that happens to us is stored away somewhere in our large and mostly poorly understood brain and becomes part of why we do what we do.

The same occurs in our animals, especially the companion dogs and cats that live so closely with us. Their behaviour is influenced by nature and nurture, right back to the time of conception. Certain traits are hard wired in by years of selective breeding for specific behaviours, for example working ability in Australian cattle dogs or kelpies and the cute lapdog laid back temperament seen in most Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

However where four legged animals differ widely from two legged animals is how they process thoughts.

Think about the thought processes that occur each time you perform a simple behaviour such as filling the car with petrol. Mine go something like this:

• How much money do I have?
• How much is petrol today “Groan it has gone up again!”?
• How far do I have to drive until I next fill up?
• The person in front of me looks like they are rich and filling their car full and will take ages.
(Assumption not based on fact)
• What other bills do I have to pay?
• How much time do I have right now?
• And a few other thoughts that occur as you wait in line……

This is a process influenced by every time I have filled up the car in over 30 years of driving, media stories about petrol prices and the state of the economy, my financial situation, my learning experienced from running out of petrol at an inconvenient time and assumptions not based on fact, i.e. the person in the queue ahead of me is slow or rich or the petrol companies are in a conspiracy to make my life as expensive as possible by increasing prices.

Contrast this to the thought processes that go through a dog’s mind during a day to day mundane behaviour:

• I just heard the cupboard open where the food is kept
• I must be getting food.

Processes based on genetics (the need to eat) and prior learning (when the food cupboard door opens I get fed). For each action there is an outcome, some of which are good (food) some of which are not (no food). Their life is much simpler. They will continue to do the behaviours that provide rewards and stop the behaviours that don’t. How they define the reward is not necessarily how we do however.

As owners we complicate the training of our companion animals by anthropomorphism of their behaviour. That is, we attribute human thought processes and behaviour to our animals. The classic case of this occurs when toilet training a puppy. We think a puppy had an accident on the expensive rug because they were annoyed at us or wanted to get back at us. In fact the puppy had an accident on the rug because they needed to wee and that happened to be where they were standing. It really is that simple. As humans we have to add all the assumptions to the interaction, just as we so often add numerous assumptions to the actions we believe we observe in people around us. When challenged with the facts we are prone to state “I believe it is so therefore it must be”

There is an old fashioned but very true saying that goes:
Assuming anything just makes “an ASS of U and ME!”

Next time you think something is true ask yourself if your assumption is actually based in fact. I am sure you will be surprised to find out that so often it has no factual basis. Even better ask the animal or person if what you are about to assume is in fact true.

How many assumptions do you make each day?

Until next time………….

Stay safe and remember to Kiss the dog, hug the cat and tell your goldfish you love them.

Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician

Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behaviour, training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors

Posted on April 1, 2012, in Dog Training, Training and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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