Thursday, August 18, 2011


We’ve all been there. You come home from a hard day at work, or back from a nice evening out on the town that included dinner and a movie and it hits you as you enter the house. The unmistakable odor of your dog’s elimination drifts into your nasal passages as you flip on the light. There it is, on the expensive living room rug like a silent yet noxious offering. In the moments before you raise your voice to yell at your pooch, you wonder why she couldn’t have chosen the easy-to-clean tile of the kitchen floor. As your dog races in excitedly to greet you, your angry voice meets her sensitive ears and she slinks back to where she came from. With her tail between her legs, her eyes droopy and forlorn, she plays the perfect part of the guilty party. Certain your dog’s behavior is an expression of her guilt, you think good, she knows that eliminating in the house is wrong. However, the canine world is much simpler than that and a dog's brain does not work the way our mind works.

Catch Them in the Act
We can learn many things from our dogs but perhaps the most zen-like of their qualities is the fact that they are experts at living in the present moment. In fact, they know no other way of living. So when you come home to a torn up shoe and scold your pet, it will be to no avail. Your dog will simply think that whatever he or she was doing when you came home was wrong. Fido cannot correlate the torn up shoe from hours ago with your reprimands, even if you wave the shoe in front of his or her face. Only if you catch your dog in the act of the particular crime can you punish Fido.

“The Look”
Where does that guilty look come from? When you scream or yell at your dog it scares them. That guilty look is your pup’s response to your behavior and can be credited to stress signals and appeasement behavior. When you stiffen your body stance, wag a reprimanding finger in their face and address them in an angry, stern tone, your dog reacts to your body language and knows it’s in trouble but does not understand why. To neutralize your perceived "aggressive" behavior your dog may exhibit signs of submission. This can include their tail between the legs, squinted or downcast eyes, rolling over, a thumping tail, or even showing teeth. For a perfect example of how a dog reacts to a scolding owner, watch the infamous video of Denver the Guilty Dog.

When you return home to those inevitable messes and chewed up signs that come with the territory of being a dog owner, take a deep breath and suppress your anger. Do not attempt to discipline your pooch unless you catch them in the act. Otherwise, you are simply wasting your breath and causing your dog undue stress.

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