Updated: Oct 29
Has your dog ever done something that you were sure was done out of spite? They were upset with you for something you did or didn't do, and found a way to let you know by doing something to get back at you. I've heard examples of this many times over the years, and for someone who really knows their own dog, it's hard to believe that their dog's behavior was anything other than an act of spite.
The science of animal behavior, however, would argue otherwise. From a scientific perspective, there is no evidence to support that animals have complex emotions like spite, jealousy, guilt, or shame. Furthermore, since it's impossible to ask an animal what they are feeling and have them explain it, we should not assume that the animal feels anything at all. Instead, we should look at their behavior through a purely objective lens. This is not to say animals don't have emotions. It is simply saying because we cannot know for sure what they are feeling, we should focus on what we can observe and study those observations in order to understand their behavior.
Science has actually come a long way in accepting that yes, animals do have the ability to feel things like fear, physical pain, joy, and maybe even love. It is still debatable, however, if they feel more complex emotions like resentment which would lead to a behavior done out of spite. Doing so would suggest the animal had the cognition to remember what their human did that upset them, ponder, and formulate a plan to do something to the human that would be equally upsetting to them, and wait for the right moment to carry out their plan. That's a lot of thinking, even for a human! I'm inclined to think, no, my dogs who always seem to live in the present moment aren't mulling over how to get back at me when I lock them in the backroom when guests come over or don't give them table scraps when they are staring at me as I eat. Of course not! But, then again, I have to ask myself, how do I explain the story of my first dog and my laptop?
D'Ogee was an 8-year-old Maltese/Shihtzu mix when I got him. We were soul mates right from the beginning. He was a one-person dog and I was it for him. Everyone else could literally go to hell for all he cared. He wanted to be right by my side at all times snuggled up on the couch...until I pulled out my laptop. I'm going to try to tell this from a scientific perspective and not anthropomorphize D'Ogee's actions or assume his feelings. This is exactly what happened, scientifically speaking.
When I would pull my laptop out, D'Ogee would jump off the couch and start barking to go outside. I would get up, let him out, wait for him, and come back in, but as soon as I picked up the laptop, he would bark, walk around the room, look at me, and if I ignored him, he would walk towards my room, stop, look back at me a couple of times before hanging his head and going under my bed. He would not come out again until I put the laptop away. This was a regular occurrence because I worked a lot on my laptop at that time.
One time I was staying at my brother's house while his family was out of town. I was upstairs in his room working on my computer and D'Ogee was under the bed. I decided to take a break, so I closed the laptop and set it on the floor so it was lying between the bed and the wall on the far side of the room. I got up. D'Ogee followed me downstairs to the kitchen where I made some food. I didn't notice where D'Ogee was during the time I was making something to eat, but when I was done, I went back upstairs to get on my laptop again, walked into my brother's room, over to the far wall, and bent down to pick my laptop off the ground, but to my shock and horror there was a big pile of hot steamy poop right on top of it!
My jaw dropped. Thank goodness I had closed it before I went downstairs or it would have been ruined. And where did the poop come from? I can only say, D'Ogee and I were the only ones in the house and it certainly didn't come from me.
Why would he poop on my laptop? Could he possibly have been resenting me for using the laptop that took attention away from him? Could he have been formulating a plan to show his resentment and seized the opportunity when I left the laptop on the floor? He followed me to the kitchen, but was he conspiring the whole time and waiting for just the right moment when I was distracted making a sandwich to quietly tiptoe upstairs, into my brother's room, around his bed, and take a big fat dump on the machine that he hated with all of his little doggy heart? I will never know for sure what was going on in his tiny brain to cause him to do this, but I know for certain he did it!
So, do our dogs do things to us out of spite? Scientifically speaking, it is unknown. There are no scientific studies to prove one way or another, but ask any dog owner and I'm sure they will be able to come up with a similar story. Perhaps our dogs are much much smarter than we give them credit for and they are plotting and waiting for just the right moment to let us know!
If your dog (or cat, or other pet) has done something to you that you think is out of spite, let us know! We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment and tell us your story.