Have you ever had this misunderstanding of what your dog is thinking?
Dogs have a different sense of time from people. They live essentially in the present. We have to go to workshops or read books to learn how to live in the present, as our minds are so full of past and future… So picture this:
A person (of either gender) comes home after being out for several hours. There are remnants of chewed pillow strewn all over the living room, and the dog slinks away from the person.
“Look how guilty he is acting!” storms the person. “He knows he should not have chewed up that pillow! BAD DOG!”
Is that how the scenario would play out in your house? My husband Kelly and I had a chance to live a variation on this one some months ago. But it went differently… We had recently moved back to the US from Mexico, with our dogs and cats. We were settled into our new house and were pretty much unpacked. We left one morning on our regular shopping trip to another town, and were gone about five hours. Both our dogs were loose in the house, and they had both been walked shortly before we went out.
When we got home, several books had been pulled out of a bookcase and torn up. Pages were strewn about. (Destroying books will get to me much faster than pillows, believe me. After all, I am a librarian!)
Neither dog seemed “guilty” to us. Why not? Because we know that dogs have such a different sense of time than humans do. If either one of us had blown our stack at this moment, then the dogs would have learned that when their people come home, watch out. Humans can be quite erratic when they walk in the front door. The dogs would not have associated a human screaming fit with something they did hours earlier. This also applies if you are not quite finished housetraining a dog and come home to a mess.
Dogs live in the present. A simple concept, but often overlooked by humans.
As for our destroyed books, we knew it was Lola, our Rottweiler, because some of the pages were in her crate and old LarryDog never goes in there. How did we handle the situation? We cleaned up quietly, said nothing to her, and the next time we did a shopping trip to the next town, we gave her an extra long walk first.
Unfortunately, she destroyed another book that time too. Okay, this was separation anxiety, not surprising as everything was still new and different in our new location — and she was a rescue dog who had been through several homes as a puppy.
The next time errands took us out, we crated her with a big Kong (link to my article about these great things) which was slathered with peanut butter. She loves her crate and already had a history of accepting being crated. And she adores peanut butter. We crated her with a Kong a few more times, even when we were just gone an hour or so, and then we gradually started letting her out again. Now we leave her out. We are careful to be sure she gets some good exercise before we leave, too!