How Your Dog Deceives You

How Your Dog Deceives You

Every dog owner has watched their pup go into a crouching position instead of “down” or faked a potty break just to get a treat. Whether we like it or not, dogs have enough intelligence to not only predict our behavior but, at times, deceive us.

“Dog owners frequently underestimate their dog’s intelligence but overestimate their cunning. Dogs are very specific and learn exactly what you teach them,” said Sarah Westcott, CPDT-KSA and owner of Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, New York. “They pick up on patterns that sometimes we are not even aware of.”

Here’s a look at just how smart they are and how to help curb these episodes before they start.

A dog’s mental ability is similar to that of a human child approximately two years old, according to the American Psychological Association. And while their intelligence differs depending on the breed of dog, their individual personality and how they’re raised or trained, most dogs can understand more than 150 words and have a basic understanding of arithmetic, according to canine researcher Stanley Coren. 

Coren also determined that during play, dogs are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards and can learn the location of valued items (such as treats) and how to operate certain mechanisms like latches and doors to get to these items.

Make Them Earn a Dog Treat

In terms of training, the biggest issue Westcott said she sees is that owners give their dogs a reward by not fully performing a trained behavior — like a lazy “down” or simply going outside instead of actually going to the bathroom.

“If a dog fools [you] into getting a reward, it’s about the owner giving out rewards without holding out for a complete behavior,” she said. “If the owners figures ‘that’s close enough’ then the dog learns he can get away with ‘close enough’ behavior.”

When training a certain behavior, make sure that you only reward the complete version of that behavior. Once the behavior established, don’t reward a sloppy version of it or it is likely to stay sloppy, Westcott said. For example, when you give your dog the cue to go to their “place,” make sure they have all four paws on it.

“Dogs are very sensitive to what’s under their paws, and if you reward them when they only have two paws on, it will become [the] new performance standard,” she said.

Sloppy or “fake out” performances from your dog can be very frustrating, especially to new owners, but it’s important not to get upset with your pup over it. Recognize the issue and make a point to break them, and yourself, of the habit.

Does your dog ever try to deceive you to get a treat? What do they do?

Photo courtesy of Sarah Westcott