Can you teach a dog to tell the truth?


Sadie looking guilty about something

By Travis Mayfield

I've learned to communicate with our dog Sadie pretty effectively over the years.

A gentle scratch on the front door from her means, ‘I need a potty break.’

A scratch at the door, then a run back toward me and jump on my lap, ‘I have to poop, please walk me.’

A push up with a wet nose on my forearm, elbow, or hand, ‘pet me and pay attention to me.’

A lick of the lips while looking directly at me, ‘I'm hungry.’

And when she sits just far enough away from me that I can't reach her and stares at me while barking just once (loudly) that means, ‘play with me or I'm about to go crazy and make your life miserable.’

But on occasion Sadie lies to me.

Forgive me for anthropomorphizing here.  I just don’t know what else to call it.

In short, she uses one of these established signals to get my attention and then she doesn't do what I’m expecting her to do.

The problem is that I don't know how to call her out on her lie.

For example, I take her out to pee and bring her back inside the house. An hour later she comes running toward the door, giving a tiny yelp and one scratch.

Usually that means, ‘I really need to pee, right questions asked...drop what you are doing and take me out.’

So I do take her out, then she promptly just wanders around smelling everything and not excreting a drop of urine.

Sure I can take her back inside, but I can’t figure out how to effectively punish her and tie that punishment to her lying (or in converse how to reward her when she doesn’t lie and tie a lack of reward to when she does).

If she scratches and she really does have to go, I want to let her outside to the yard. 

Yet if it is a lie, that won’t be clear until she is out the door, she's sniffed around for a while and that’s it.

She's a very obedient dog and she learns quickly.  She can sit, stay, roll on her side, jump, shake and many other tricks.  She also heals and comes when called.  

I want to train her that crying wolf isn't good and could mean I ignore her next time when it is a 'real emergency.'

It seems funny, but honestly how do you break a dog of lying?

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