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Guilt Free Dog

She never makes me feel bad
By Karen B. London PhD, June 2018, Updated June 2021

Harlow enjoying some loving attention

Harlow is a sweet dog with many fine qualities, several of which I have already written about in a previous blog. In that piece, I discussed how incredibly nice she is, and I alluded to the fact that she welcomes attention from everyone but is not pushy about it. When we recently hosted Harlow again for 5 days while her guardian traveled for work, I noticed this quality of non-pushiness and thought a lot about how wonderful it is.

Harlow is always enthusiastic about attention, whether it is in the form of petting, play, a walk or a training session. Yet, she is never the slightest bit pushy or demanding about it. She may look up hopefully if someone walks by her, but not with any desperation. She happily accepts whatever love and attention come her way, but is perfectly okay when someone does not engage with her. She will take whatever she can get but never seems to mind if she must entertain herself or take a snooze instead of having the opportunity to socialize.

So many dogs look at you so pitifully when a walk is postponed or if people are rushing about in the morning due to a catastrophic oversleeping incident. Not Harlow. She simply grabs a fleece toy and gently squeaks away, or amuses herself in some other way. There are dogs who are so desperate to play that they will repeatedly place a tennis ball in your lap or hurl a dog toy in your general direction. No matter how clear it may seem that a play session is not about to happen, these dogs are persistent and ever-hopeful. It’s easy to feel guilty in the face of such direct requests to play, but because Harlow puts no pressure on us to play, we feel free of any guilt.

And by the way, we spent lots of time with Harlow during her visit. We played with her, took her out on walks several times a day and also trained her in multiple sessions throughout the day. Between the four of us humans living here, little time passed between petting sessions, and she was always welcome to sleep on the bed and cozy up with us. So, I’m not suggesting that we should have felt guilty, but it’s easy to feel bad when a dog clearly wants something that you just can’t or don’t want to give right then. And that’s what’s so interesting to me about Harlow—she clearly loves attention of any sort and becomes very excited about it, wagging her entire body and showing clear joy with her facial expressions. It’s just that when nobody is hanging out with her, she doesn’t give strong signals that she is wanting for it. She lives in the moment, I guess.

Have you experienced dogs who make you feel guilty or dogs who don’t based on their different behaviors when you are not currently interacting with them?

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life