Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who did that?!

Today in my scatterbrained way, I forgot to close the gate to the girls' bedrooms. When I went to put Sprout down for her nap, I was greeted with an upended diaper bin and pieces of dirty diaper all over the floor. (Thankfully we do cloth diapers so the worst of the nastiness has been flushed and dirty diapers are largely inaccessible to the dogs.) Even though I knew it was my fault, I called out "Grrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!! Which one of you bad dogs did this?!?!?" Strangely, no one answered.

I put Sprout down, cleaned up the mess, and went about my afternoon. I realized that both dogs were in "their" room, all on their own, as flat as possible on their respective dog beds, pretending to be invisible. Neither one made eye contact with me, although they both followed me with their invisible eyes in their invisible heads. (Because I am a mom to both canines and humans I can see invisible things like lost shoes, vegetables, empty toilet paper rolls, and misbehaving creatures that no one else in the house can see.)

Now some may say "Oh the dogs knew they did something wrong" or "those dogs are acting guilty." I beg to differ. Once the "goodies" were out of the diapers, the dog pretty much put it all out of his (maybe her) mind. However, the dogs have learned from past experience that if I let out an exasperated growl, chances are they are going to get closed off in their room. And in the past when the dogs have ignored the direction to go to their room, it usually involves a scold and a persistent body block which they would rather avoid. (Body block = me getting big and tall and moving into their space. I never touch them, I just invade wherever they are trying to be and dogs, being dogs, will give way to whoever is in charge. Since I control food and access to outside and all fun activities, I'm in charge without every laying a finger on them.) So to appease Crazy Lady who Controls All Good Things, the dogs just did what had been expected of them in the past. Who knows, maybe the appeasement would work and I'd act like it never happened.

This is quite a bit like when Bug is warned that a certain behavior will earn her a certain consequence. Right now we're dealing with some lying issues and I consider lying a pretty big rule infraction. Bug hates going potty for whatever reason and twice I've caught her telling me she went and then I find out she didn't. Bug knows that if she lies about potty before bed, she will not get a story. Both times, even though I said "You'd better go potty because if I find out you are lying to me, you will not get a story", she took the risk. Then when she got caught, she instantly went into appeasement mode. Suddenly she couldn't go potty, brush her teeth, put on her jammies, and get into bed fast enough - things that are usually a struggle. And she mentioned her story several times during all of this. She hadn't forgotten - she knows full well that there is a consequence for lying - but she's hoping by doing everything else right, things she's been resistant to doing in the past, I'll forget and/or be appeased. Instead, I gently reminded her that she was not getting a story because she lied, tucked her in with the usual love and kisses, and left.

Bug's grasp of the consequence happened after only one incident while it took the dogs quite a bit longer to read my voice and body language, but the end result is still the same - the sudden urge to do exactly what is expected. It's not really guilt acting as much as it is appeasement behavior so things can go back to being the regular pleasant routine it usually is. Dogs don't have morals so they can't feel guilt. Humans do have morals and can feel guilt, but it takes some time to develop and Bug is still developing the finer points. And appeasement and guilt can go hand in hand for humans, but a dog is a dog is a dog. They do what works and we love them for it. Usually.

(And before anyone criticizes me for locking up my dogs or however that may appear, let me just say that the dogs' room is actually my husband's rec room with my husband's office on one side and a half open Dutch door to the kitchen on the other. It has windows, climate control, water, comfy beds and is where we usually do our socializing. The dogs aren't outcasts, they are just put in a room near family traffic without being in the way so I can better manage the insanity in my home. They choose to go there on their own and generally spend their days and nights with the family.)

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