Embarrassment is something that can provoke a range of emotions in humans, from angry outbursts to laughter at our own mistakes. However, it seems there is another hardwired response to embarrassing situations that I like to call Homer Simpsonisim. If Homer is walking down the street and walks into a light pole, you can bet that the phrase “Stupid light pole!” will soon issue forth.
Now in this scenario, the light pole is just bolted there minding its own business, doing what light poles do. Yet Homer, along with many other Homersapiens seems to think the light pole to blame. To be clear, I know we are not actually blaming the light pole but it does bring up an interesting point which is how we react to our dogs when they do something we consider embarrassing in public.
Many of the things our dogs do in public are not things that most humans do; well, not sober humans anyway. Even though we can rationalize that this is just a dog being a dog, it embarrasses us and causes us to blame the dog for the uncouth behavior.
Being yanked for sniffing butts or peeing on a hydrant, scolded for sniffing other humans, yelled at for barking at unfamiliar humans, these are all daily occurrences for our dogs acting in normal doggy fashion. Yet we feel we need to blame and scold them to save our dignity. Why?
In part I think it’s because if you are like me, you see them as a reflection of yourself. As a kid out in public with my parents, I was keenly aware that I was a tiny representative of their parenting skills. This realization on my part didn’t happen overnight and I was allowed to act a certain way until I was taught differently. Eventually I learned that my actions reflected upon them and if they were displeased or embarrassed, my behind would certainly reflect their level of embarrassment and displeasure. Consequently, I tended to be an extremely well behaved child.
While I certainly don’t advocate the methods used by my parents, specifically in the form of punishment; there is a correlation here. They let me behave a child up to a point where they drew a line and said this particular behavior will not be tolerated anymore.
Our dogs have to be able to express themselves as dogs; doing things in public that come natural to a dog like sniffing everything in sight is how they communicate and what keeps them sane. Other behaviors like jumping and sniffing people are solely the fault of the human because we have not shown them and acceptable alternative to meeting someone like sitting to greet.
Embarrassment is often borne out of our own inattention or unwillingness to prepare for a potentially embarrassing situation. Why should our dogs pay the price? Leave the unwarranted blaming of our dogs for things like our own flatulence and keep the leash jerking out of it.