4 min read


Can Dogs be Vindictive?



4 min read


Can Dogs be Vindictive?


You love your dog and you think they're the best pup in the world, but that doesn't mean your doggo has never messed up before. Think about that one time you left your dog alone for too long at home. Remember how the house was wrecked when you came home? Remember how your favorite socks were torn to shreds? Let's think about that for a minute. Sure, you left your dog alone for too long, and that's on you. But was that behavior simple dog behavior or was it vindictive actions aimed at getting back at you?

More often than not, it might feel like the latter. Luckily, though, dog brains don't angle toward the vindictive route - not the way you might fear, anyway.

Dogs are instinctual creatures that react to the stimuli in front of them. Dog brains don't have the ability to understand or communicate spite or vindictive behavior. Dogs are incapable of these complicated, human emotions.

So, next time your dog pees on the rug, remember: they are not doing it because they're mad at you, they simply needed to be let out a lot sooner. 

Want to know more about doggy behavior that could be labeled as vindictive or spiteful? Do you want to better understand the science behind "dog emotions" and why you can't assign vindictive or spiteful to your doggo's emotional repertoire? 

Read on! We've got the ultimate vindictive-doggy guide below!  


Signs Your Dog May be Giving You that Could be Confused with Vindication

Most dog behaviors that could be labeled as spiteful or vindictive simply have roots in boredom, anxiety, or nervousness. Confused about what those actions and signs look like? We've got you covered. 

If your dog is experiencing feelings of anxiety, boredom, or nervousness, it's possible that they'll manifest in vindictive-like behaviors like chewing, digging, incontinence, and other behaviors that they've been trained to recognize as "bad." If your dog does these things after you've either spent too much time away from them or haven't given them enough attention, your pup is simply responding to the stimuli in front of them. They are not mad at you and getting back at you. 

You might notice your pup getting destructive or aggressive, too. For example, they might bark, growl, or be more vocal in situations where they typically wouldn't or knows they aren't supposed to. 

Additionally, they might start tearing up furniture, the backyard, or items in your home out of boredom or anxiety. It's important to remember your dog isn't doing these things because they are angry or trying to get back at you. Instead, they are letting you know that they require more attention, more time, or a change of schedule to keep them happy and well taken care of. 

Body Language

Your dog could be giving you body language that seems vindictive, but in the long run, it's just a dog's reaction to their stimuli.

  • Growling
  • Digging
  • Whining
  • Howling
  • Sniffing
  • Exposed Teeth

Other Signs

Here are a few other vindictive-like signs your dog might be giving you:

  • Destructive Behavior
  • Uncharacteristic Aggression
  • Incontinence

History of Dogs Being Vindictive


In a specific case study posted on All Dogs Gym in the Dog Tracks Column, Gail T. Fisher discusses numerous consultations with a dog owner who accused her dog of being spiteful for repeatedly leg-lifting in the house for years. The owner attributed this vindictive behavior to be directed at her for leaving the dog alone. 

Dogs, however, simply don't think that way. They are unable to be motivated by spite. What was the likely case, Fisher suggests, is that the dog didn't understand which behavior the owner deemed incorrect. He does this when he's alone and no one is there to chastise him - so how could he know it's wrong when he's alone. It's possible that connection was never made. 

There was a simple miscommunication. Additionally, the owner's pleas and scolds of "be good while I'm gone" likely caused the dog a bit of stress, and that stress, in turn, had him revert to stress-relieving behavior - lifting his leg.

The Science Behind Dog's Emotions


As we said before, dog's aren't able to process emotions like spite or vindictiveness. Those emotions are too complex for animals that are stimuli-responsive. Dogs react to what we do and the situations put in front of them - they're unable to plot or plan any vindictive behaviors simply because you left them alone too long. 

We often think that dogs can share the same emotions as humans, but in reality, they're unable to process such complex, human emotions. According to Dr. Marty Becker and trainer Mikkel Becker, dogs aren't capable of those sentiments. Often, the guilty expressions that follow their behaviors aren't omissions of guilt because of their vindictive-like actions, but more because of how we're reacting to their actions (like ripping up a shoe, or having an accident in the house). Instead of an "I did this because I was mad" they're giving us more of an "I see you're upset because of what I did, and I'm sorry" feeling.

Training Your Dog to Avoid "Vindictive" Behavior


As we said, your dog can't really be vindictive, but that doesn't mean they can't exhibit vindictive-like behavior. Remember, your dog reacts to you and its stimulation, so it's important that you're doing your part. Let them out in a timely manner, give them the attention they require, and don't leave them alone for too long. 

Beyond that, though, you have to ensure your dog knows you're in charge. Make sure they understand basic commands like "no," "kennel," and "stop it." It's important that they can abide by these basic obedience commands so they understand you're the alpha dog and they have to listen to you. 

Further, make sure that you stay consistent with the rules. If you confuse your pup, they are liable to slip back into behavior that doesn't coincide with what you want from them. If they are not allowed on the furniture, make sure they are always off the furniture, not just when you're home. If they are not allowed to chew on socks, make sure they know that socks are always off limits and don't give them any as a fun toy or treat when they are behaving his best. 

Make sure they are crate trained, as well. Keeping them in a safe, comfy spot while you're away will help eliminate any bad behavior they might undertake while you're gone.

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Written by a Great Dane lover Hanna Marcus

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/19/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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