Dog shaming is such a thing these days. We’ve all seen the photos of the shame-faced dogs with signs in front of them explaining their misdeeds. Some of them are quite funny, because dogs do the strangest things! There’s the dog I heard about who likes to find his owner’s dirty underwear and hide it under pillows around the house (ewww, but funny). Or those dogs who like to roll in poo and then give you a good cuddle (ewww, but funny again). When one of my own dogs, Wyatt, was a puppy, he used to flip his food bowl. At nearly every meal, he’d dump out his food and eat it off of the floor. Dogs all have their quirks, and we often love them even more because of them.
But sometimes when I see a dog shaming photo, I see it differently.
I think about how often we misunderstand our dogs or blame them for things we really shouldn’t blame them for. The shredded couch often points to boredom or separation anxiety. The trash that was eaten smelled delicious to the dog. So did the cat food, and the cat poop. One of the amazing things about dogs is how they exist in the present moment, and how they bring us into that moment with them. The flip side of this present-moment focus for a dog is that they don’t think ahead like we do. Dogs live in the moment, and they don’t know that they are being “bad.” They’re just being dogs, and dog shaming isn’t the answer.
In many ways, dog shaming photos suggest a paradox.
We simultaneously seem to believe that are dogs are just as complex as us emotionally, yet also incredibly simple. When it comes to the dog pooping on the floor, we insist that the dog knew better. We believe our dog is so smart and humanlike that he does things on purpose, just to make us upset. Yet we also expect this emotionally complex animal to be content to stay at home all day with nothing to do and no awesome chew toys, un-exercised. Then, we get mad when we come home to a shredded couch. So which is it? We can’t have it both ways. A dog can’t be both complex enough to understand everything we want, yet simple enough not to have any needs of her own.
In dog shaming photos, the captions often suggest that dogs are doing things just to spite their people.
However, the truth is that dogs don’t work that way. Sure, they might act out for various reasons, but they aren’t vindictive like that. Sometimes the poop left on the floor of the new house is a sign of stress. It could also mean that the housetraining hasn’t generalized to the new home. In fact, naughty behaviors that appear in times of stress are often interpreted as a sign that the dog is being spiteful. The dog who poops and pees on the floor when the new baby comes home from the hospital may be acting out of stress. The same is probably true of the dog who eats the passports and cash before the night of the big trip.
A lot of dog shaming photos relate to dogs destroying various things around the house.
My 2 year old Australian cattle dog/lab/other stuff mutt, Wyatt, will very occasionally destroy houseplants. If, the first time his did this, I had simply assumed he was being bad on purpose, I wouldn’t have looked for a reason for his behavior. I wouldn’t have changed anything, and the behavior very likely would have occurred again. Instead, I remembered that he’s a dog, not a human. And why had he done such a naughty thing? Most likely, it was because he hadn’t gotten nearly enough exercise that day and was bored. Ideally, Wyatt needs about an hour and a half of vigorous exercise, such as a fast-paced game of fetch, per day. So guess what? Those destroyed houseplants- not his fault! My fault, because I’m the smart human here. No dog shaming for Wyatt!
Counter surfing is another frequent dog habit that leads to dog shaming.
All it takes is one instance of stealing something delicious from up there, and the dog is hooked. If we assume the dog should just know better, then we don’t really attempt to problem-solve. It’s the dog’s problem- not ours. But how about we stop for a moment and remember that the dog is just a dog. He doesn’t get a lot of thrills in his day-to-day life, and whatever is up there smells absolutely incredible. In fact, with his nose, he can almost taste it already!
Without devoting time to some training, the dog isn’t going to change.
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity, I’ve heard. So how about taking the simple approach instead? We are the smart humans, so let’s just change our own behavior. Let’s not leave food out on the kitchen counter, or maybe we can install a baby gate so the dog can’t get into the kitchen.
Sure, all the dog shaming photos can be entertaining.
But the next time you see one of them, after you’ve had a chuckle, ask yourself what you can learn from it. Perhaps, instead of the dog wearing as sign saying, “I ate an entire plate of sandwiches from the coffee table,” the human should be wearing a sign saying, “I left a plate of incredibly delicious sandwiches unattended, right at my dog’s mouth level!” I suppose my point is this: let’s stop blaming our dogs when they do things we don’t like, and let’s start problem-solving instead. If we take responsibility for the times our dogs do things we don’t like, then it puts the power back in our hands, which is a lot less frustrating for us!