Anthropomorphism. It’s a big word that refers to the interpretation of animal behavior as looking like human behavior.
How many times have you heard someone say something like “He got in the trash again. When I walked in the door he looked guilty, turned around and left the room.” Guilty? Maybe not.
Here is the dog’s perspective…
Zach is still a puppy at 10 months. He has had breakfast, a drink of water, a poop and a pee. His Mom left the house, bidding Zach a good day. Zach settles in for his morning nap.
The sound of trash trucks wake Zach. He checks out the noise, woofs, gets a sip of water, goes back to sleep.
Zach wakes up, stretches, cruises the house. Finds his tennis ball. What good is it without someone to throw it? Something moved in the corner of the bedroom. Spider. Check it out. Gone. Where’d it go? Oh well. Moves on to the kitchen. The squirrels are in the backyard. Can’t get to them. Woof. Back and forth in front of the sliding glass door. SQUIRRELS! Woof woof woof. Ugh and oh well. Zach lies down, watching the backyard, falls asleep.
Phone rings. Zach wakes up, stretches, gets a drink of water. What is that tantalizing smell? His people sometimes put yummy stuff in that tall box in the kitchen. Fish from last night? Did they leave some in there for the dog? They are SO good to him. Zach knocks the trashcan over and starts the most fun game of the day: a treasure hunt. He finds the fishy smelling paper towel, eats it; finds the potato peelings, eats them; finds the mostly empty chocolate pudding container, licks it clean. Not much else of interest. Another sip of water and he takes a nap on the couch.
Fast forward to 5:48 p.m.
Mom gets home from work to find the contents of the trashcan all over the kitchen floor. Zach greets her as always, that happy tail wagging. But wait. He takes one look at her body language and knows she is not happy. Why? Did she have a bad day? She’s yelling at him. Why? Her hands are all fisted and she’s wearing her mad face. Zach tries to figure out what’s going on when she yells “Bad dog” in her really mean voice. Zach gets the heck out of there as fast as he can.
When telling a friend about the latest trashcan incident, Mom will swear Zach knew he’d done something wrong because he looked guilty.
But in fact, Zach lives in the now. He got into the trash hours ago. It was self-rewarding. He connects his owner’s anger with her homecoming NOT with the scattered trash. Do you really want to teach your dog to stop greeting you joyously at the door? Of course not. You just want him to stay out of the trash.
There are lots of training solutions for trash-eating dogs. But let’s keep it simple.
Remove the source of the problem. And the problem is not the dog.
Put the trashcan somewhere Zach can’t get to it. AND provide Zach with a richer daily life so he doesn’t go looking for something to do. Consider a dog walker, doggy day care, interactive toys, and perhaps even another dog to keep Zach company.
Are there times when you may have misunderstood your dog?
Dee Bogetti is a service dog trainer, consultant, occasional blogger and published author. She lives with and loves two Labrador retrievers and one goofy pitbull. In addition to training people and their dogs and writing, Dee has created apprenticeship and mentoring programs for future service dog trainers, established service dog health screening guidelines, and taught train-the-trainer workshops.
Dee’s books, A guide to choosing and training your own service dog and Puppies chew shoes, don’t they? are available on Amazon. Foundation training for diabetic alert dogs will be published soon. Its precursor was the first-ever diabetic alert dog training manual, written by Dee in 2010. Website | YouTube