Posted : 1/25/2008 8:48:07 AM
Well, IMO, training leads to a fulfillment of the "esteem needs." And I do believe that dogs have this, though not quite in the same way as people.
One well respected idea in child psychology is that while a child needs to know that it is loved and has a "safe base" with its family, real, healthy, "self-esteem" is best created by setting up situations in which the child can succeed and then rewarding the child for doing so. Not just rewarding the child for no apparent reason, because that can lead to unrealistic self-views.
IMO, this applies very well to dog training. Of course we provide love and "belongingness" to our dogs, regardless of what they do. I still love my dog after he chews up my shoes. This gives him a "safe base" with me and allows for a trusting relationship between us. He knows I'm not going to boot him out on the street if he misbehaves, and that he can trust me even if he knows I'm upset.
However, I want to build his own self-confidence and "self-esteem" (at least the doggie equivalent - feelings of satisfaction, perhaps?) by letting him know what behaviors I want from him and then rewarding him for doing them. Potty outside? Goooood boy. You picked up your squeaky toy and left my dirty laundry alone? Goooood boy. I do think dogs can feel some sort of pride, or at least some sort of feeling of being pleased with themselves for something they've done.
I think it's debatable whether or not dogs are capable of "self-actualization" (heck, sometimes I wonder if people are :-p). However, I think by setting consistent, clear expectations for our dogs and then rewarding them for fulfilling those expectations we certainly encourage feelings of "achievement" in our dogs. And since there can be no achievement without challenge, training is IMO the best way to accomplish that.
("Training" doesn't have to mean just "tricks," however. At least not to me. It's also teaching a shy dog how to play nicely in a group, or teaching an aggressive dog to calm down, or a stressed dog to relax a bit. In my definition, "training" is working to modify the dog's behavior in any way.)