The dog “standing in the corner” in the Charlie Brown sweater is our beloved little Chihuahua/Dachshund mutt, Paul aka “Jude Law” (don’t ask). Isn’t he cute? I took this picture about five years ago. He had done something “bad”—peed on the floor—and I made him stand in the corner. And stay there. He’d make to move away—“GET BACK”—and back he’d go. And so he stayed. For a long time. I was cooking and I just let him stay there. He kept his back straight and his nose right in the corner. Later, Tara came home and asked “WHAT is going on here?” and we had a rather good laugh about this. It was such an absurd thing.
The following day we saw him run into the kitchen, approach the corner, straighten his back and press his nose to the spot where he’d been punished the day before. We were in hysterics. It was this totally weird-sad-funny-pathetic canine thing: He was —or so it seemed to us—trying to simultaneously please us and yet still do his penance at the same time. That’s when the above picture was taken.
Not to just bore you with a story about our dog, there is a point. He obviously knew he’d done something wrong (he peed on the floor again) but he also thought—in a cause and effect kinda way—that we expected him to stand in the corner because he had done something wrong. That’s a fairly complicated thought for a two year old child, let alone a pooch, I think you’ll agree. Dig the doggie logic: he was punishing himself.
All pet owners have funny stories they can tell. Every dog and every cat, once you know them, can be seen to have a unique and quirky personality. I’m always saying “I wish I could be inside his head for one hour and know what he’s thinking” which is Tara’s cue to answer back “Circles. Squares. Triangles. Food. Mommy. Love. Circles. Squares. Triangles…”
I’m a sucker for anything that purports to explain canine and feline behavior to me. One cutting edge theory is that dogs are four-legged con artists who’ve connived their way into our homes and beds with their big innocent, brown eyes and wagging tails. Ditto for cats. but they’re more honest (apparently!).
If, like me, you enjoy pondering your dog’s IQ, you’ll probably like this article, The Secrets Inside Your Dog’s Mind by Carl Zimmer:
We’ve all seen guilty dogs slinking away with lowered tails, for example. Horowitz wondered if they behave this way because they truly recognize they’ve done something wrong, so she devised an experiment. First she observed how dogs behaved when they did something they weren’t supposed to do and were scolded by their owners. Then she tricked the owners into believing the dogs had misbehaved when they hadn’t. When the humans scolded the dogs, the dogs were just as likely to look guilty, even though they were innocent of any misbehavior. What’s at play here, she concluded, is not some inner sense of right and wrong but a learned ability to act submissive when an owner gets angry. “It’s a white-flag response,” Horowitz says.
While this kind of manipulation may be unsettling to us, it reveals how carefully dogs pay attention to humans and learn from what they observe. That same attentiveness also gives dogs—or at least certain dogs—a skill with words that seems eerily human.
The Secrets Inside Your Dog’s Mind