We’ve probably all experienced that “guilty dog” look — the one that they give us when we catch them doing something wrong and discipline them for it. Body lowered, ears, head, and tail down, maybe squinty eyes.
But is it really guilt that the dog is demonstrating, or just submission? And what happens in your dog’s mind after the discipline is over?
Understanding dog psychology
When we humanize dogs, it’s easy to put labels on their behavior that don’t really apply. Your teenager might resent you for a while if you ground them or take away privileges, and they’ll let you know it. Your dog doesn’t think the same way.
Dogs live in the moment, so the emotions of that submissive display last exactly as long as the dog is displaying it.
A good example of this is the typical dog’s reaction when the humans return home after a long day of being gone. The dog may have spent all day moping around, waiting for you to come back, but the second you walk in the door, all of those feelings are gone, replaced by happiness (and sometimes excitement) because, in this moment, you’re there again.
What your dog really needs
Have you ever accidentally stepped on your dog’s paw or tail, making them yelp and jump away? Don’t worry. They didn’t take it personally. In fact, a lot of dogs will also display submissive behavior after getting stepped on.
What if you take away a dog’s toy because playtime is over? They may act a little miffed right in that moment, but they aren’t going to spend the rest of the day thinking, “You took my favorite toy. I hate you.”
If you want to make sure that your dog is never resentful, then you as a Pack Leader have to provide what your dog really wants — rules, boundaries, and limitations — and what your dog really needs: exercise, discipline and then affection, in that order.
To keep your dog happy, make sure that she is socialized and gets along with other dogs and people, but remember that your dog’s mood comes from your energy.
You can’t socialize a dog if you’re afraid of something bad happening, even if something bad has happened in the past.
Being fearful in the present because of something bad that happened in the past is a human trait, not a dog trait. Dogs don’t hold grudges. They only appear to if the humans around them react negatively, because then we’re telling our dogs to do the same.
So the next time you have to discipline or correct your dog, don’t worry. She won’t resent you for it. She won’t even remember it five minutes later. This is one of the greatest lessons we can learn from dogs: how to get over it.
Have you seen behavior from your dog that you thought was resentful? What do you think was really going on? Tell us in the comments.