The scenario: Your dog pees on the carpet while you’re gone. You return home and open the door to find your dog sulking, with his tail tucked and wearing the best sorrowful eyes he can muster.
The great debate: By displaying the sulking behavior, does your dog “know” he did something wrong?
I remember walking Sensi with a friend of mine and her dog when the sticky issue came up.
Like Sensi, her dog has some fear issues. Unlike Sensi, she also has some anxiety issues that flare up when she’s left alone.
This dainty lady, a likely shepherd-pit bull mix, would frequently take her anxiety out on the vertical blinds covering the door wall. My friend would return home to her find her dog in the foyer, tail tucked and looking guilty.
“When I find her like that, I know she did something,” my friend said. “I say, ‘What’d you do? Did you do something bad?’”
There’s no debating with my friend — to her, the answer is clear. Her dog is always happy and waggly when there’s been no incidents. And every time she sulked, my friend walked farther in her house to find some sort of mess. The dog knows, she swears, and the record of behavior proves it.
“But you’ve got to understand, in order for a dog to make a connection between a consequence and a behavior, the consequence has to be immediate,” I argued. “She doesn’t ‘know’ that what she did was wrong, and punishing her at that point doesn’t do anything to address her blinds-destroying habit.”
I do believe that dogs may make an association between a situation — like blinds being on the floor — and being punished when their human gets home. The guilty look, then, isn’t guilt at all, but anxiety.
The dog is anxious about their human arriving home because they have an association between blinds on the floor and human walking in the door angry.
It doesn’t mean they understand their action — be it ripping down blinds or relieving themselves on the carpet — was wrong.
I usually never win these arguments with people.
What’s your take on the great debate?
Leave me a comment, share your experiences and maybe I'll be persuaded.
Does your dog know when it does something wrong and what makes you believe he/she knows?