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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Guilty Look

Here is an experiment to think about but not try.  Well you can try the first half of the experiment, but please don't try the second half:

Catch your dog doing something *safe* but "naughty" - getting into the trash, stealing a sock, etc..
Start jolly talking the dog like he/she is doing something wonderful.

Second (don't try this part. Just think about it)
Hand your dog a toy or a food dispenser or food puzzle. Then while your dog is enjoying the item, start yelling at the dog as if he/she has done something wrong.

I bet that a lot of pets would look happy in the first scenario but "guilty" in the second scenario. The so called "guilty" look is normally determined by the pet parent's attitude, not by the dog's actions.

In the above video, you will see Puddin appearing to be quite proud of herself for stealing paper towels, a roll of doggie poop bags, a CD booklet, and even money. That's because I "pay" her to bring me stuff that she finds.

The below video shows Murphy being happy about being caught ripping up a paper towel.

What does this "guilty" look accomplish?
I see numerous videos on YouTube of dogs "feeling bad" because they got into the trash or took the cat's food.  But they are still getting into the trash and stealing the cat's food.  Let's say for argument's sake the the "guilty" look is real. What have we accomplished by making our dogs feel bad? They still do the behavior that we don't like, they just feel bad about it.

Have you seen this "guilty" look in other contexts?
Think about it.  When we come home and see trash all over the place, we look for a guilty dog.  What we call guilt is usually appeasement/calming/stress signals (lip licking, crouched body, head down, etc..).  Does your dog display this body language in other contexts?  We might notice it at the scary vet's office.  There are times we might not notice it
- When we let strangers pet our dogs intrusively
- When we are holding our dog in place while strange kids rub them all over
- When we make our dogs go to the dog parks because it's something we like, not what the dog likes
- When we have loud parties
- When we yank our dogs by their collar and choke them (euphemistically called "corrections")
- When we shock our dogs

Set Your Dog Up For Success
So if making our dogs feel "guilty" doesn't stop them from getting into things, how do we avoid coming home to a mess?
It's quite simple really.  Put the cat food away in a cupboard, take out the trash, put our socks away, etc..
See Safe Residence.

But I don't want just manage my dog, I want to train my dogs
You can train your dogs to not get into the trash, or steal socks, etc.. But proper training requires proofing. We have to start easy then work our way up. We can't train our dog to stay away from the trash while leaving the trash out - or else the dog will get more reinforcement from the trash than he/she will get from us.
So first remove the trash, then slowly work on barrier training using only positive reinforcement. i.e. treating the dog for staying in a certain zone. Later we can start adding in low value items and maybe eventually work our way up to actual trash.
Personally, I think it's much easier to just take out the trash.
For information on barrier training, Google "youtube kikopup barrier training"
Caution - if there is ever anything unsafe that your dog might get into (like cooked chicken bones), don't rely on training.  Move the non safe items out of reach.

 See more on the guilty look in this video

From the experts (direct quotes from their books)
  • From On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas
    Lobo's owner came home with a worried look on his face, as Lobo had chewed up something the previous day and his owner was worried that it had happened again. The worried brow made Lobo crawl towards him, wagging his tail wildly, in the hope that his owner might look less angry. Many owners interpret this as the dog feeling guilty but this is not the case: the dog is reacting to the body language of its owner.
  • ...He looks guilty. Or is it just that the dog is reacting to the owner's expression of anger.. Remember that the pup, in its eyes, has never been punished for chewing the carpet; it has been punished for being in the same room as the chewed-up-carpet, and there is a world of difference between the two.
  • From The Culture Clash: A Revolutionary New Way to Understanding the Relationship Between Humans and Domestic Dogs by Jean Donaldson
    Dogs cannot have moral failings as they cannot knowingly act against the common good. They therefore never self-punish with guilt and self-recrimination as we do....This doesn't make them morally inferior. It's just how they are. We take far too personally phenomena that are simply products of animal-learning laws....If someone punished you in a certain circumstance, you would beg for mercy too, regardless of whether you had any clue as to why they were about to punish you. It's Orwellian what we do to dogs....Owners also assume that the dog can learn right-wrong when what he really learns is safe-dangerous. It's "proto-morality." When a dog is learning how the world works, there are many different pieces of the puzzle to assimilate....
    When the owner comes home, the dog behaves appeasingly in an attempt to avoid or turn off the harsh treatment he has learned often happens at this time. The owner's arrival home and/or pre-punishment demeanor have become a predictor: the dog knows he's about to be punished. But he doesn't know why.
  • From Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home by Karen B. London Ph.D., Ph.D. McConnell Patricia B.
    That “guilty” look is her attempt to keep you from getting angry at her, not a sign that she “knows” better. Quietly pick up the mess, and resolve to go backward a few steps....Studies have shown that dogs are not “guilty,” but are trying to appease their owners with these postures. Punishment after the fact will not improve the dog’s behavior the next time he is left alone, and if anything, will just make things worse.
  • From The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training, 3rd Edition by Pamela Dennison
    What’s happening after you punish the dog either verbally or physically? He becomes anxious and tries to appease and diffuse your anger with submissive doggie gestures. Some of the signs of a dog’s anxiety that we humans incorrectly perceive as “looking guilty” may be a lowered head, tail tucked between legs, ears back, and even a submissive grin. We assume (there’s that word again) that the dog “knows what he did wrong.”

  • In  The Dog Trainer's Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet (Quick & Dirty Tips), author Jolanta Benal writes about a study conducted by Dr A. Horowitz where the pet parents actually didn't know whether or not their dogs were actually "guilty":
    The dogs offered significantly more “guilty” behaviors when they were scolded, regardless of whether they’d eaten the treat. And...dogs who didn’t eat the treat showed as many guilty-looking behaviors as dogs who did eat it. In other words, how guilty the dogs acted had no connection with their actual “guilt.” In fact, the dogs who acted guiltiest of all were the “innocent” ones being scolded....

    Three of the guardians in the study had a history of using physical reprimands—forcing the dog down to the ground, grabbing them, even hitting them. Their three dogs were among the four who offered the highest rate of “guilty” behavior....

    Dr. Horowitz, the researcher, points out in her paper that the list of “guilty” behaviors overlaps with the array of behaviors canid ethologists associate with fear and submission. Since the dogs acted “guiltier” when scolded, regardless of what they’d actually done, Dr. Horowitz suggests that they may have been offering submissive behaviors because the scolding made them expect a punishment. “What the guilty look may be,” she writes, “is a look of fearful anticipation of punishment.”...

    More to come on the "guilty" look

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