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An issue that’s common amongst dog owners is when their dog seems to have learnt a rule, like “don’t knock over the rubbish bin,” but when left alone the dog breaks the rule, even though the owner thought they “knew it was wrong.”
This problem is caused by the mistaken assumption that dogs, like humans, have a sense of “right” vs “wrong.” The reality is that dogs learn things in terms of “safe” or “dangerous.”
A dog that appears to break a rule they “knew was wrong” has learned that breaking the rule is dangerous is front of humans (I’ll get in trouble if they see me knocking the bin over) but safe when they’re alone (I can knock the bin over when my humans are out, and I don’t get in trouble).
Dogs are amazingly fantastic creatures who can enrich our lives and teach us so much – but they aren’t tiny humans. Applying human motives to their actions can lead to miscommunications.
Another common example of this is when humans misinterpret dog body language due to a similarity to a human action or emotion. This is the case with dogs who are squinting their eyes, not making eye contact, cringing, and turning their head away or down.
This series of signals actually means “please don’t be mad at me,” and not “I am feeling guilty.”