Dog Tales

Dogs have  no remorse

Being a professional dog trainer, I should know better than to expect a dog to show remorse.

I think I’ve shared that Jubilee, as well-trained as she is and having won numerous awards and titles, has also learned to counter surf. Her favorite spot is the stove where she has found the joys of bacon and chicken. First thing in the morning, after she comes in from outside, she enthusiastically bounds into the kitchen with great anticipation wondering what deliciousness she will find.

The other morning when I was preparing some fruit for breakfast she came up right next to me, yup, feet on the counter to investigate what I was doing. I was shocked. Amy was standing on the other side of the counter and I said with all seriousness, “Can’t she at least show some remorse for eating my food?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, we looked at each other and got hysterical. Yet, there was a huge part of me that was serious.

Really, I get totally irritated every time I lose my breakfast, lunch or part of our dinner to the dog! Doesn’t she know how mad it makes me? No, she doesn’t, she’s a dog and she’s looking for her next opportunity. Can’t she hear it in my voice? Well, maybe, but not really in any long-lasting way. Can’t she feel my anger? No, she’s a dog. If a behavior gets her something that she wants, she’ll do it again, my presence notwithstanding. Clearly, jumping onto the counter gets her a huge benefit, so she does it again and again. Time to train the humans to keep anything edible out of reach so that the behavior will extinguish itself over time when the dog learns that the counter no longer produces butter, food scraps, bacon grease, etc.

When I’m working with aggressive dogs, my clients are shocked that right after the dog bites either them or worse yet, someone else, the dog acts completely normal. As if nothing happened. I’ll hear them say something to the effect of, “He came right back over to me wagging his tail.” I’m always a bit perplexed. Well of course the dog did, he doesn’t feel badly about biting. In his mind, he needed to either move the scary thing away from him, or run away. If running away — flight — isn’t available, then most dogs don’t have a choice but to bite. For the fearful dog, it’s a matter of survival.

I still get annoyed when I loose my food to the dog, but I’m reminding myself that Jubilee can’t show remorse. For her, like all dogs, its about finding her next opportunity. There is even a learning theory law, called The Matching Law, that states that if an animal gets 20 percent of their food surfing the counters, they’ll spend 20 percent of their time surfing the counters. Animals are designed, by evolution, to expend the least amount of energy for the most food. Counter surfing offers great sources of protein with very little energy expenditure. No remorse here!

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 20 years. She offers private lessons, group classes in Rindge and Swanzey, board and train as well as day training services. She lives in Keene with her partner, Amy Willey. They share their home with five dogs and three daughters. For more information, see

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