No he doesn’t!
He has no idea!
All he knows is that you are cross and he has not got a clue why!
So he runs through a series of appeasing behaviours to show that he’s no threat. This may include lowered head, looking away, lowered body posture, creeping, slinking away, screwing up his eyes and grinning, licking his lips, yawning, walking in slow motion silently, licking you, jumping on you, nudging you, burying his head in you. A young puppy can even lose bladder or bowel control in his distress.
All the while you are wagging your finger, shouting or yelling - or worse (as anyone who had a vicious headmistress like I did will know!) going very, very, still and quiet and saying “What. Do. You. Think. You’re. Doing?”
He doesn’t know. Really. He’s a dog.
Dog Body Language
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Dogs express themselves largely through their body language. While most people see nothing - just a dog - it’s in fact a sophisticated language which is very clear, once you learn it.
As a dog-owner it’s your duty to learn Dog Body Language!
You wouldn’t adopt a child from another country and refuse to listen to anything she said until she could express herself fluently in your language. It’s such nonsense when you look at it like that!
So know that you have to observe your dog, look out for every ear-twitch, every sideways glance - what’s his head doing? what’s his movement telling me?
There are some good resources online for learning these movements. Here’s a good one from the amazing artist Lili Chin, of the Body Language of Fear in Dogs
Do you recognise some of these from your own dog? Start looking! You’ll see them all, in time …
So why does he look so “guilty”?
All this is telling you that telling your dog off and assuming that because he slinks or cowers or looks away, he understands what you’re on about, is mistaken! (That’s polite-speak for WRONG!)
Dogs don’t “look guilty”, or “know they’ve done wrong”. Something a few correspondents have been trying to tell me this week.
Those awful videos that get circulated online - of dogs “looking guilty” - are horrible. Anyone who actually understands dogs knows that the dog is deeply unhappy and distressed by the hostility her owner is demonstrating. Having no idea of the cause, all she can do is grovel. Setting these situations up and videoing them is cruelty, no less.
What can you do instead when something you don’t like has happened?
The first thing to do is to look at why the thing happened. And very often you’ll find the finger is pointing at … yourself!
◆ Who left the dog alone with the kitchen waste bin?
◆ Who left the door open so that your curious dog went out through it?
◆ Who failed to follow a force-free housetraining program and now has a confused dog who doesn’t know where to relieve herself?
◆ Who left valuable yet chewable items within reach of a puppy who has as yet no boundaries?
So if you come home to find a mess, just clear it up quietly, while resolving to change your own habits so that it can’t happen again.
Our dogs have it hard enough living in our strange world without being told off for breaking rules they didn’t know existed! If you follow this path, you’ll have a hard time ever gaining her trust.