Wednesday March 24th

The Guilty Look

Have you ever come home and found a total mess in your home?  Either there is pee or poo on the carpet or trash strewn all about?  As you stand there, surveying the mess, you look around and the only culprit is of course the dog.  As you stare angrily at your dog you see their facial expression start to change and you think to yourself, ahhhaa! Yes, you knew it, they are telling you they are guilty. They are admitting they have done wrong with a very guilty look. They are guilty and their face is a telegram saying so.  Well, not so fast my friends.  That guilty look is actually their fearful response to your anger.  As discussed in a previous podcast, dog do what works…so let’s unpack this a bit.

As you stare at the mess on your carpet your mind is coming up with all the reasons your dog urinated on the carpet – they must be angry at you for coming home late, they are getting their revenge because you worked many hours last week, or they didn’t like that you slept in late this morning and the list goes on and on.  Respectfully, may I suggest a different voice in your head.  One that says your dog peed on your carpet because well, they had to pee and you were no where around to open the door so they could go outside.  Or there was scent of past urine that even though you had cleaned your carpet carefully, still lingered because an enzymatic leaner was not used.

If your dog was not guilty for urinating on your carpet but instead they opened the trash bin spread trash all over the house you are thinking again, they must be mad at you for leaving them alone this evening. You tick off all kinds of accusations, “my dog is so stubborn, they did this on purpose so I would have to clean it up”. “I don’t deserve this” and the list goes on and on.  Let me present another reason, that has absolutely nothing to do with your dog being a revenge seeking master.  Their noses are impeccable smelling machines, and the trash was full of delicious smells. They were bored, they had nothing else to do while you were out so they made their own fun by enjoying every last whiff of 3 days of trash. In fact it was so fun and smelled so delicious they wanted to roll their bodies on top of the trash so they could continue to enjoy the delicacies of the trash bin even longer.

The next time you are angry with your dog and convinced that they know they did wrong by the guilty look on their face, take a deep breath. And stop. And another deep breath. Your dog is not admitting guilt, from their perspective, they did nothing wrong. They are not admitting guilt, but are instead telling you they are scared.  They are scared by your reaction. You are scaring your dog. Never can there be a great relationship when fear is a part of the equation. Dogs are immoral, they don’t operate on the premises of right and wrong, they do what works for them. They are not revenge seeking missiles.  Quite simply, they had to pee or they were bored. House-trained dogs do not urinate outside because it is the right thig to do.  They urinate outside because they have been rewarded for doing so.  And behaviour that has been rewarded continues. Behavior that is not been rewarded or has been punished, goes down.  Simple fact. If we take this just one step further, we have a nation of very bored dogs.  Rolling around in trash gave them something to do, it was beneficial, it met a need for them. Think about our dogs entertainment compared to ours.  We have books, movies, social media, friends to chat with.  Dogs have what we give them and sometimes that is much.  Dogs deserve better.  They need activities to occupy themselves. They need to burn energy; it is important that they too have opportunities to be with other dogs. The need to smell the world, be taken out in the car with the windows rolled down or out on a leash where they lead you on a self-guided “sniffari”. Let your dog sniff to their hearts content.

The next time you dog does something you don’t like, give up thinking they did it to you out of spite.  Ask yourself “what other alternatives did I give my dog”? Did I give my dog ample time outside to do his business and did I reward him for doing so? Did I leave my dog with options that are gratifying for him as he spent time alone while I was away? Does my dog have a variety of bones to enjoy, different flavors and densities to work his jaw muscles? Did he have a puzzle toy to work his mind?  Was he in a safe place, in a dog proof area?

We are 100% responsible for our dogs well-being.  It is up to us to set them up for success.  It is our job to care for them and not put them in the position to have access to the trash or to pee or poop all over your home.  Your dog is not trying to get back at you. They do not know that it is wrong to pee on the carpet, they don’t think trash is bad.  These behaviors are not personal attacks against you even if it feels that way.  It is your dog being a dog.  If you do not like the behavior you are getting, start rewarding them for the behavior you do like.  Watch your relationship flourish. Watch the light in your dog’s eye as you interact with them only in loving and respectful ways. Learn to love watching them think and process.  Give them time to understand what it is you are asking them to do, while it is so obvious to you, it is not at all obvious to them. Remember we speak different languages and no matter how loudly you speak or how many times you say it, our language has no meaning to them until we assign meaning. Let them learn the consequences of sitting when you say sit, they get rewarded.  Let them learn the association of leashes and walks. The leash means great things to them, walkies!! Your dog does what works for him.  A dogs’ behavior is guided by science, evolution, and genetics. It is never personal although it sometimes feels that way. Throw out the belief your dog is “getting back at you” or dog admitting guilt.  Embrace providing your dog with enriching activities and understanding that we are different species with different values. Enjoy as your relationship with your dog flourishes as it is based in understanding and respect.


-Kathleen McClure with The Happier Dog is graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers also known as the Harvard for dog Trainers, where she earned a certificate in dog training and counseling. She is also a Fear Free Certified® dog trainer with a BA in Psychology.  She has lived with more dogs in her home at any one time than most people will in their entire lifetime. Kathleen has worked with hundreds of families over the years to help them build the relationships they want with their dogs – and that always starts by realizing challenging or “problem” behaviors’ serve a purpose, pinpointing the purpose and devising a plan that works for both the dog and their human companions. Her life purpose is to create empathy for the positions we put dogs in and work with her clients to create your best ever human-dog bond and relationship.

Kathleen McClure is a Certified Trainer and Counselor and  Fear Free Trainer.  She lives with her husband and the large menagerie of foster and rescue dogs and cats.