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Does a Dog's Guilty Look Prove He's Been Naughty?

By Linda Cole

After a long day at work, you're tired and all you want to do is go home and put your feet up. But as soon as you open the door, you see trash scattered all over the kitchen floor and your dog has a guilty look. If you only have one pet, the naughty one is obvious, but households with two or more pets may not know which one did the dastardly deed. Before jumping to conclusions, are you sure you're blaming the right pet?

Like any pet owner, when I come home and find knick knacks lying on the floor I assume one of the cats must have had a fun afternoon dusting the table. I've even returned home to find a chunk missing out of the arm of my couch. My first reaction is to look to see who looks guilty. Trying to find the guilty cat is like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack! “Don't look at me. I'm a cat and we never do anything wrong.” Besides, cats believe everything in your home belongs to them anyway. So, since the knick knacks and table are theirs, it's a cat's right to rearrange them if she decides the table looks better without all that clutter.

Dogs sometimes give us a peevish look of guilt that says it all, whether they've been naughty or not. My dog Alex will sit in the corner of the couch with all of the guilty signs of a bad dog. Her face is long, her head drops low and she looks at me with the saddest eyes she can muster even though I know she's innocent. Alex doesn't get into trouble, but she reads me like a book.

I was surprised to discover which dog had taken a bite out of my couch one day. It took awhile to find the guilty one, and I never thought it would be my Siberian Husky Jake, who was around 15 years old at the time. When I questioned all of the dogs, he never once gave me any sign it was him. I totally misread him and blamed one of the younger dogs who had a history of chewing things up. Come to find out, Jake had a cohort – one of the cats. They both returned to the scene of the crime and I caught them in the act.

Dogs read our body language and our emotions better than we read theirs. And sometimes a dog can be as nonchalant as a person. I knew yelling wouldn't accomplish anything. Trying to show them my displeasure with the hole in the couch had no affect on Jake. His look said, “Don't blame me. It's the cat's fault.”

Dogs don't see things like we do and even though they do show emotions, it's not the same as ours. They may know we're upset by the way we move, our tone of voice and the look on our face, but they have no idea it's because of something they did. That's why punishing a dog or cat for chewing up a favorite afghan or breaking a precious keepsake means nothing to them and they have no idea why we're angry. They have no sense of value and it's up to us to make sure what we treasure is put up away from prying noses and claws.

Dogs and cats need stimulation – something to play with or chew on while they're home alone —and plenty of exercise to help keep them from getting into trouble when we're away. They don't get into the garbage to make us mad, and chewing is a natural thing to do when a dog is bored. They don't sit in a corner looking guilty because they know what they did was bad. Our body language tells them we're angry and that's what they understand.

The best thing you can do when you come home and find stuffing all over the living room floor or garbage spread out on the kitchen floor is to quietly clean up the mess. When you’re done, grab a handful of CANIDAE TidNips™ treats and work on their training. We want our pets to be happy to see us when we get home and not hiding in a corner with a long face. They may learn to associate a spilled garbage can with you being angry, but they don't know it was because they did it. They hide in anticipation of how you will react from past experience. Give them a break and just let it go. Instead of yelling, give your pet a massage after the incident is forgotten. Your bond with your pet will be stronger and they will always be happy to see you when you come home.

Photo by Rebekah Pavlovic

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