Too often, dogs do not understand why they are receiving punishment or which behavior produced the punishment. Dog owners attribute unrealistic reasoning abilities far beyond the animal’s mental capacity. The owner may believe the dog knew what he was doing wrong because he had the “guilty” look on his face when the owner yelled, “WHAT IS THIS ON THE FLOOR!” while pointing to a mess. The belief that the dog knew better incites the owner to severely punish him despite the fact that the destruction occurred several hours before the owner got home. The dog connects the punishment with the owner coming home, not with the misbehavior that took place several hours ago. The next day, the owner is prepared to find a mess, and the first thing he or she does upon arriving home is search the house for evidence of dog damage.
The posture of an owner searching for a pile of unmentionables is not at all friendly and loving. The owner’s hunched over shoulders and wiggling nose, searching for a mess, make the person look mean and contorted. The verbal greeting may go something like, “So what did you destroy today?” The “guilty” look is the dog’s response to the owner’s weird behavior.
The dog is remembering previous inexplicable punishment. In his mind, greeting the owner at the door will result to punishment. The dog forgot about the mess that he made hours ago. Punishing your pet long after the crime has been committed, rather than during or immediately after the act, has no purpose other than to confuse or make the dog fearful. Many owners report that they do not even suspect a problem when they walk in the door, and yet the dog still looks guilty. Maybe there have been enough messes for the dog to realize that a mess on the floor is a good indication that a correction is approaching when the owner gets home. However, the dog simply does not have the ability to connect that refraining from chewing at noon will prevent a punishment at 5:30 pm.
There is no evidence to suggest that dogs deliberately misbehave to make their owners angry. Dogs misbehave because they were not taught proper behavior, or they are bored, frustrated, and anxious, to name a few reasons. Dogs chew, bark, etc., to satisfy their immediate needs and emotions, not to spite their owners. Dogs want to please their owners and not spite them.