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,

Lea

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