If your dog has gone to the bathroom on the floor while you were away from home, you’re probably wondering if it did this deliberately.
Humans are not the only animals who plot conscious revenge on others. As Stephen Beckerman, a Penn State anthropologist, points out: “Widespread in the animal kingdom is the behavior of returning injury for injury. Animals as varied and as far from us as blue-footed boobies, elephant seals, side-striped jackals and European moorhens are called punishers. They regularly respond to injuries by attacking the culprit who has injured them.”
You might think that mental injuries could be included. Your dog gets depressed because it is lonely and restless. It therefore acts out by doing something you hate.
However, this is not the case.
Although dogs have good memories, they live more in the moment. When you come home and find the mess, your body language before you even say something to your dog may reveal your anger and cause your dog to react. Your dog, however, is not necessarily waiting for some sort of mental satisfaction that it got a reaction out of you. That behavior is tied to a phenomenon known as “theory of mind,” which requires a complex ability to understand and possibly even to predict the thoughts of others.
Revenge is also more complicated than you might think. “Revenge is a desire to not just punish the culprit, but to change his mind, to make him see -- if only in his death throws -- that he was wrong,” says Beckerman. Do you think your dog is plotting and planning all of this in regard to its bowel movements? I strongly doubt it.
The more simple answer is that your dog is either stressed out or has no appropriate place to go to the bathroom without your guidance. Some owners crate their dogs during the day, but I view that as more of a last-resort solution. Try to reinforce bathroom training. If your dog is not very big, you might install some baby gates to prevent access to certain areas of your home. Dog bathroom mats can also help. They often have the look and feel of grass, but keep the waste contained for easy disposal.
If possible, you should also consider getting a dog walker, pet sitter or someone else to look in on your pet during the day. Boredom can lead to anxiety and then to bathroom issues in dogs. If your dog stays active and social, those problems are less likely to surface. Health issues could also be at work, so you might additionally schedule a veterinary visit to rule those out.