You come home from a nice evening out on the town and it hits you as you enter the house. The unmistakable odor of your dog’s elimination drifts into your nasal passages as you turn on the light. There it is, on the expensive living room floor. As your dog races in excitedly to greet you, your angry voice meets their sensitive ears and they slink back to where they came from. With the tail between the legs, eyes droopy and forlorn, they play the perfect part of the guilty party. Certain your dog’s behavior is an expression of guilt, you think good, they know that eliminating in the house is wrong. However, the canine world is much simpler than that and a dog's brain does not work the way our mind works.
Catch Them in the Act
We can learn many things from our dogs but perhaps the most zen-like of their qualities is the fact that they are experts at living in the present moment. In fact, they know no other way of living. So when you come home to a torn up shoe and scold your pet, it will be to no avail. Your dog will simply think that whatever he or she was doing when you came home was wrong. Your dog cannot correlate the torn up shoe from hours ago with your reprimands, even if you wave the shoe in front of his or her face. Only if you catch your dog in the act of the particular crime can you correct them.
Where does that guilty look come from? When you scream or yell at your dog it scares them. That guilty look is your pup’s response to your behavior and can be credited to stress signals and appeasement behavior. When you stiffen your body stance, wave a reprimanding finger in their face and address them in an angry, stern tone, your dog reacts to your body language and knows they are in trouble but do not understand why. To neutralize your perceived "aggressive" behavior, your dog may exhibit signs of submission. This can include their tail between the legs, squinted or downcast eyes, rolling over, a thumping tail, or even showing teeth. For a perfect example of how a dog reacts to a scolding owner, watch the infamous video of Denver the Guilty Dog.
When you return home to those inevitable messes and chewed up signs that come with the territory of being a dog owner, take a deep breath and suppress your anger. Do not attempt to discipline your pooch unless you catch them in the act. Otherwise, you are simply wasting your breath and causing your dog undue stress.