The Danger in Dog Shaming

Dog shaming has become a part of our online culture, and sure, why not. Dogs do some downright shady, shameful things. Snacking in the cat box, chewing up valuables, rolling in nastiness. Some dogs haven’t received the memo that part of domestication means not chewing up mom’s undies or peeing down a forced air duct.

So when we come home and find that our dog has done some shameful thing, we react. Because we’re humans, not dogs, and it doesn’t make sense to us why they chewed up the remote control. And, after a time or two seeing our reactions, most dogs start to have their own reciprocal reactions. (I say “most” because my “sweet, but dumb” Rottie girl would gladly lie down next to the evidence and wait for you to catch her with the smoking gun.) But, your average dog will hide or approach you with their head down if they’ve been caught being naughty.

To make things more confusing, our dogs are probably equally confounded by our interpretation of their body language. To us, lip licking indicates they just ate something tasty and off limits, when it can actually mean a dog is nervous or uneasy. And a dog may yawn to calm themselves when stressed... it doesn’t mean they’re feeling unremorseful about chewing your Pradas. Quite to the contrary. It wasn’t until I had a dog with a fearful personality that I recognized the look we often associate with “guilt” was actually fear. If we catch Kayden snuggling with one of the kid’s toys when we get home, he’s trembling, with his tail tucked and ears back, licking his lips nervously. Not guilt. Fear.

dog shamingThe communication breakdown doesn’t stop there. Plenty of problem behaviors stem from a dog’s feelings about us or our actions--making us indirectly the cause of the “shameful” act. My Shepherd only chewed up my spot on the sofa, my dirty laundry, my towels. It was because I was leaving and he was upset. Again, many people would assume the dog is chewing my items to get back at me because he is mad or jealous. In fact, he was trying to calm himself, using my scent as a comfort mechanism. It would almost have been flattering if it wasn’t so frustrating.

This isn’t to say that it’s my fault for leaving him. Someone has to go to work to pay for the food, rawhides, and pet insurance. But, what did fall to me was understanding why he was acting out and what I could do to comfort him in my absence. (More on managing separation anxiety here.) If I came home and scolded him for his destructive behavior, I was only causing him to be more concerned about maintaining his connection with me.

Don’t get me wrong. The lighthearted photos of “dog shaming” can be a great way for pet parents to commiserate and vent some frustration over a stolen cupcake or a carpet stain. No animals were harmed in the making of these memes. But, once you’ve got photographic evidence, stop and think about why your dog did what he did. If he peed on the leather couch, it’s because it smells like another animal. If he tore up a headrest when you left him in the car, maybe he was bored. Instead of harshly “shaming” a dog for acting like a dog, look at the issue from the dog’s perspective, and you might stand a fair chance at preventing another incident.

Shamelessly yours,


Guest Post: Behavior Problems Require Behavior Counseling, Not Training

We live in a fast paced, do-it-now, society and our pets live there right with us. We are stressed out, running around, trying to meet deadlines, both at work and in our lives. Our animals sense our stress. They are so in-tune with us. Think about it, we are their world, so anything that stresses us out, stresses them out. No wonder we see more behavior problems in our pets than ever before. Throw in the indiscriminate breeding practices that are rampant in our country and you can get some pretty messed up pets.

Behavior ProblemsOur society is also one in which we want the quick and easy fix for our pet’s behavior problems but, alas, there is no panacea. It often takes a combination of behavior counseling and drugs, just like in people. Notice I did not say behavior training, because training is NOT behavior counseling. This is a problem I see often. This is a very important point. No shock or pronged collars have ever cured a behavioral issue. They often make things worse and I have seen it happen way too many times. Trainers do a fantastic job at training your dog in obedience and manners. Thank god we have them, but behavior counseling is a whole different beast.

Just like physiological problems in people, behavior problems in pets often have roots in medical abnormalities. A great example of this is a condition in cats called Feline Interstitial Cystitis or FIC that can cause a cat to eliminate inappropriately. Cats are very physiological creatures and often respond negatively to any stress. Many studies point to FIC and IC being stress induced. Dr. Tony Buffington at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, is the preeminent expert on this subject. He has developed The Indoor Pet Initiative website to help people enrich their pets' lives and decrease the stress that cause problems in our companions.

We are very fortunate to have a great behavior department at The OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, which is overseen by Dr. Herron, a board certified veterinary behaviorist. She is wonderful and has done a great job, helping many pets that others could not. She goes through a full assessment to find the cause of the problems. Their website offers many great resources for pet owners to use. And, if you need help finding a behaviorist in your area, you can go to The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website to find one near you.

Related Articles
August is Solving Problem Behavior Month
Podcast: Addressing Problem Behaviors by Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Pet Behaviorists: What They Do and Why You Might Need One
Other posts by Dr Riggs

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

Podcast: Addressing Problem Behaviors by Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Today’s podcast issue is well, just that...behavioral issues. We’re looking at behavioral modification from both the medical and training angles.

Some of the common concerns Dr. Patrick Mahaney and I tackle are:

  1. Separation anxiety: Separation anxiety is frustrating and there's often no easy fix. What really works? What are the current medication recommendations when training and other behavioral methods don't work. Are there really more anxious pets or are pet anxiety issues just more often diagnosed than they were 10 years ago?
  2. Litterbox issues: With inappropriate urination and defecation being the leading causes of cats being surrendered to shelters, any special tips or tricks you can recommend to owners struggling with litterbox problems?
  3. Canine inappropriate behaviors: What trends are you finding helpful in the management or correction of inappropriate canine behaviors like excessive barking, chewing, digging, scratching, etc?
  4. Finding a trainer: Do you have any "must-have" recommendations for pet parents that are looking for a trainer or behaviorist? What sorts of professionals do you recommend and who should we avoid? (link mentioned: American College of Veterinary Behaviorists)


Click on the link below to hear the audio:
Podcast: Laura Bennett & Dr Patrick Mahaney Problem Behavior 2014

Congratulations to Dr. Mahaney's dog, Cardiff, on his 9th birthday and chemo completion! For additional information on the Canine Lymphoma Education Awareness and Research Foundation, visit their website.

Related Posts
August is Solving Problem Behavior Month
Other posts by Dr Patrick Mahaney

Dr Patrick MahaneyDr. Mahaney is a veterinarian from the University of Pennsylvania and a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, having been inspired by his own chronic pain from Intervertebral Disc Disease to provide accupuncture to his veterinary clients. In addition to Dr Mahaney's house call integrative veterinary medicine business, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness, he sees patients on an in-clinic basis at Veterinary Cancer Group in Culver City, CA. Dr Mahaney writes a veterinary column (Patrick's Blog) and contributes to a variety of media, including Perez Hilton's, Fido Friendly, Veterinary Practice News, Healthy Pets and People with Dr Patrick on, and MSNBC Sunday with Alex Witt and Career Day. His first book, The Uncomfortable Vet, will be available in 2015 through Havenhurst Books

August is Solving Problem Behavior Month

It wasn’t until we started talking about the idea of “problem behaviors” here in the office that I realized I’ve chalked a lot of my dog Kayden’s behavior issues up to personality quirks. From fear-motivated barking to submissive urination, I’d just shrugged these issues off as “eh, could be worse. Not worth worrying about.”

Kayden Problem Dog BehaviorA “wanted” poster was made by a fellow Embracer after Kayden peed on our office yoga instructor. That’s the definition of embarrassing behavior.

But, at best, problem behaviors are an annoyance to me and everyone around my pet. At worst, problem behaviors can be dangerous for person and pets alike. That’s why we’re dedicating August to addressing these idiosyncrasies that all of our pets have and looking at solutions through management, training and even medication.

Ready to help your pet mind their p’s and q’s? We’ve got a foundation of great resources on pet behavior and training, with more to come this month.

For cats:

and dogs:


Unjudgingly yours,


With a little help from my friends...

Embracer lea with her dogsAs they say, it takes a village to raise a baby, or in this case, a blog. My good friend, Embracer Lea, is going to help out with the Embrace blog so you'll be seeing more of her excellent posts here to keep our content fresh and relevant.

I can't think of anyone more qualified at Embrace to help out with the blog than Lea. She was hired at my kitchen table back in early 2006 when we didn't have an office to speak of (I'm pretty sure my cat Barnes sat on her lap to give encouragement during the interview). She then started off in the Contact Center selling many of you early Embrace family your policies - she really knows our policies from the ground up.

Over the years since, she has gained a husband, a degree, two dog's, a house, a daughter, and has another child on the way. She's also used her Embrace pet insurance policy a lot. And she's been helping us with our web content over most of that time in one form or another, starting with the Embrace Pet Community blog to helping out with the Water Bowl and now sprucing up the Embrace blog. We're lucky to have her.

Make sure to give Lea a warm welcome to the Embrace blog - I know I am!

Laura Bennett
Chief Embracer

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