I’ve heard the story too many times to count and it goes like this: “My dog pees/gets into mischief/is destructive when I’m away from home, so when I come home I scold/hit/yell at him. And he knows he’s done something wrong because he always looks guilty when I come home.” Sound familiar? There are a number of variations to the tale but the gist of it is always the same. The dogs does something it shouldn’t, owner comes home, reprimands the dog and now the dog shows signs of guilt when they arrive home.
Here’s the dog’s side of this situation: “My crazy owner comes home and sometimes does some very bizarre/hurtful/cruel things to me, so I just make myself as submissive as possible so he’ll leave me the hell alone. It’s really scary and I’m starting to get really afraid of him.”
Trust me when I tell you that dogs DO NOT feel guilt in any way. They can’t make associations to past events – they live in the here and now. What happened one minute ago is gone forever, never to be dwelled upon by your faithful poochy pal again. Because of this simple truth your timing of when you give praise and corrections is critical to your dog’s ever understanding the rules you set for him.
Basically you have about a two second window of opportunity to lay on the praise or give a correction and have your dog actually equate it to the behavior. Two seconds – that’s it. If any more time goes by you’ve missed your chance to teach him anything. That’s why supervision is so important for puppies and adult dogs new to a home. If you’re not there at the precise time your dog makes the blunder or does something good, you’re missing value opportunities to instruct him how to live in your world.
I see this all the time: Owner lets the puppy outside into the back yard but is too lazy to go out there with him and merely watches from the doorway. The puppy ambles into the grass, pees and trots back to the house where the owner is happily waiting with a friendly voice and a yummy treat. Congrats, you just rewarded coming inside, which although may be nice, it’s probably not what the owner thought he was rewarding. The pup has no clue that was for the peeing in the yard – that was eons ago.
If you come home and your dog has misbehaved or had an accident. Take a big tall glass of suck it up, clean up the mess and move on. Reprimanding after the fact is not only ineffective but detrimental. I don’t care how guilty you say he looks, he has no clue what’s going on. He only knows that you are insane and unstable.
Since you now understand that you need to supervise to show your dog exactly how to behave, also remember that every dog is good much more than they are bad. So you should be praising him much more throughout the day than giving corrections. If you’re not praising 90% of the time on any given day, you’re missing just about everything. Even the most disobedient dog is good most of the time, and you should be letting him know.
Take a look at how you praise and correct your dog, be honest about your timing and do better tomorrow. When you do, you and your dog will enjoy each other a whole lot more.