I see the videos where the dog has a submissive grin when the guy asks who stole the cat treats or who got into the garbage (and the trashcan lid is around the “guilty” dog’s neck). It sure feels like they are vindictive when I’ve just taken them home from the boarding place and they look at me and pee on the carpet in the bedroom! In Jean Donaldson’s book, The Culture Clash, she states that dogs are completely and innocently selfish.
“Although some of their behaviors are socially facilitated, there is no good evidence that they have the all-purpose Swiss Arm Knife imitation tool that humans have. Here is the important point: this does not make them stupid or any less valuable than they would be if they could think more like us.”
Assigning these very human behaviors to dogs or any other species besides humans is called anthropomorphizing. It’s pretty easy to do when you don’t really understand how small the dog’s brain is and how they really can’t think up these complex thoughts. In Dr. Patricia McConnell’s book, The Other End of the Leash, she tells the story of a dog owner, John, who came to her with a male Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chester who didn’t like to be corrected. When John said “No!”, Chester would run into the bedroom, jump on the bed, wait for his owner to come and then, staring directly at him, lift his leg and pee on the pillow.
That has to be a vengeance pee, right? Well, in a nutshell no. John had been warned that Chessies are often stubborn and willful dogs. The breeder had advised him to yell, “NO!” at Chester and grab him by the scruff and shake him. John was a good student and did what was advised. Chester was freaked out frightened and flattened his ears, rolled over and peed some more. John realized he’d gone over the top with his correction.
For the next few days, the same scenario ensued. John would yell, “No!” and run toward Chester. Chester would cower and urinate. John would stop realizing it would just make the dog more anxious. Chester learned that if he peed, John would stop his offensive movement. Later Chester learned to combine his peeing with a game he’d been teaching John called “Tag, I’m It!” As with a lot of adolescents, it was pleasurable to be chased and to watch Dad go gaga (Chester had found the right button to push!) but the trigger to this behavior was John yelling “NO!”
The behavior was turned around with John changing his correction word from “no” to “wrong”. Chester learned that if he stopped what he was doing when he heard “wrong,” something good happened. John and Chester lived happily ever after.
So the next time you think that puddle in your bed is a vengeance pee, think about all the things that might have led up to it. Dogs just don’t think in terms of justice and vengeance.