Begging your pardon

How often do you apologize for your dog’s behavior?

I am surprised at how often people, pet owners and trainers alike will beg forgiveness for their dog’s behavior. We apologize for our dogs when they bark, greet someone enthusiastically or stare at someone’s steak and cheese sandwich with unrelenting intensity. I am not taking a stand for allowing rude behaviors in dogs when they are interacting with people, but I do think it warrants consideration that some of those behaviors do not have to be looked on as misdemeanors, let alone felonies.

cocker spaniel looking at woman eatingWhen a friend lost her beloved dog after years of companionship she said to me, “He knew that every last bite of my sandwich would be his.” She didn’t share this to complain about a dog who begged while she ate. She was acknowledging that every meal would be a reminder that her friend was gone, and she would miss him.

Any behavior that our dogs perform in order to get a desired outcome can be tweaked so they can learn how to perform it more effectively. We can teach our dogs that lying down quietly nearby will get them snacks more readily than will staring, whining, or barking- behaviors which have served dogs well for thousands of years. In many places dogs survive by perfecting their methods for separating people from their dinner. In countries with large populations of strays it’s not unusual to find dogs who frequent the same restaurants daily, narrowing in on a tourist who falls for their quiet beseeching stares and tosses them a french fry. I’ve watched dogs go from table to table, knowing when a few more seconds of staring or head tilt will achieve the desired results, and when it’s time to move on.

Many of us living with dogs who are afraid of people would welcome the inconvenience of a dog who greeted house guests as though they were lovers in a past life. If we are less inclined to be proud of this behavior there is no need to change how the dog feels about people through the use of punishment, whether it’s physical or a sharp verbal reprimand, to curb their enthusiasm. We help them learn how to behave so they get the attention and information they’re after without creating dry cleaning bills or knocking granddad over.

It should not come as a surprise that dogs bark. This behavior, like begging, was probably one that helped dogs survive and become useful to humans. They are among the best early warning systems around. Many pet owners want a dog for this purpose, to alert them to intruders. Issues arise when a dog is unable to differentiate between the people or vehicles we want the dog to wake us up for when they are coming up the driveway versus those that can be safely ignored. Add to this the fact that many dogs have little else to do with their time, and you can end up with a dog who is annoying to owners and neighbors alike. Enter the industry of ‘barking solutions’ that range from disturbing sounds, shocks, sprays, and surgery. I am NOT suggesting that we should learn to put up with unending barking, but that we assess the cause of the behavior- anxiety, boredom, arousal, alarm- and address that instead of looking for solutions that scare, hurt or intimidate our dogs.

Our dogs can learn new skills and better manners, but at the end of the day they’ll still be dogs.

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11 comments so far

  1. Thomas Aaron on

    I think I apologize sometimes as a knee-jerk reaction. This morning, Alie ran over to the neighbor (who was checking her mailbox) and jumped up for a kiss. I apologized, but the neighbor loves Alie and enjoyed the interaction.

    I think there is a certain amount of “just-in-case” politeness that drives us to apologize sometimes, since we can never really be sure what someone else is thinking. That’s probably a human survival instinct of some sort.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Yes, I never assume that anyone enjoys my dog’s affection, especially if they’re wearing white.

  2. Adrienne on

    I have a new fence in my backyard so my dogs now run up and down it waiting for others to walk by and bark at. I definitely don’t mind a bark or two but I need to train them properly (to stop excessive barking) or give them something else to make there lives more fulfilled. Thank you for this post!

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s not easy to train dogs to do or not do something if we’re not there to train them. Fence running is oh so much fun for many dogs. I have had success in having the intruders cue an acceptable behavior, the easiest is, come to me for a treat, or get your ball and I’ll toss it.

  3. Frances on

    Mine are being particularly yappy at the moment – too many days of horrible weather and sticky mud in the fields mean shorter than usual walks, and dogs with excess energy to redirect. I know the reason, I know that the solution is to keep very quiet and find them lots of interesting games … and STILL I get drawn into barking back with commands that they be quiet, and escalating the situation.

    Thank you for the reminder!

    • fearfuldogs on

      It’s an annoying behavior. I say ‘thank you!’ and toss a treat if I have some handy. Sounds less like ‘OMG keep barking’ than if I shout ‘shuddup!’ and the treats distract them.

  4. yashikibuta on

    this is such a nice read. sometimes apologizing comes out as an impulse, but you sure put me in perspective there. because whenever my babies would jump up at me, i welcome it as his/her way of telling me that they want a hug, so why should I apologize to friends when my babies do that to them too. thank you for sharing this.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I don’t mind teaching other people’s dog’s bad behaviors 😉 I also give my friend’s kids noisy toys.

  5. rangerskat on

    Finna is a barker. She barks at everything. We thank her for letting us know about whatever it was and go about our business. Finna still barks at almost everything but now she gives a few alert barks and stops. I can totally live with that. It does mean that sometimes I need to get up out of my comfy chair and go to where she is to thank her for letting me know but that’s a small price to pay for giving her the reassurance that we know there’s something that concerns her and that it’s OK we’ll keep her safe.

  6. Mel on

    Amen! I don’t often apologize for my dog’s behavior because 1) I expect them to be what they are – dogs, and 2) because I try to anticipate behavior that I expect will make me want to apologize and redirect it, where it is possible. Barking is innate to Shelties, so I knew what I was getting when I adopted not one, but two Shelties.
    What I did not plan on was that one Sheltie would bring out the the barking even more (duh!) and lead to some fence barking with the neighbor’s dogs. So, I am working redirecting this behavior to new ones. This spring I will be putting in some hedges along that area of the fence to deter them a bit more.
    Our expectations of our dogs should always take into consideration that they ARE dogs and that any behavior that embarrasses us is one that can be redirected or retrained (in most cases). But sometime the redirecting belongs in our camp, not our dog’s.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Since adding Nibbles to our household I’ve had to come up with plans for how to manage Sunny with him around. When we are on woods walks Sunny rarely would be out of my sight for long. Nibbles on the other hand loves to race off after scents and the two of them together are away from me longer than I’d like. Sunny is manageable around people suddenly appearing on the scene ‘unless’ there is another dog who goes racing up and barking. Nibbles at 13lbs isn’t all that scary or dangerous, but Sunny could be. I’m employing the use of leashes and a muzzle. Not my favorite pieces of equipment.


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