Do Dogs Fight Because They Can’t Lie?

“Sorry, I can’t come over because my family is visiting.”

“Thank you so much. These purple socks with barfing unicorns are adorable.”

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all lied.

But dogs don’t lie. Is that why they fight?

Do dogs lie?

Little White Lies

If you asked me, I’d usually say honesty is important.

But lately I’ve thought about how little white lies help smooth social interactions.

We lie to family. We lie to friends. We lie to strangers.

Sure, you might call it being sparing with the truth. Or being diplomatic.

But technically you’re lying when you say anything but the truth to avoid an argument.

And dogs don’t lie. So sometimes they have arguments.

Dogs Don’t Lie

If a dog doesn’t like something, she makes subtle (to us) signals like turning her head, licking her lips, or pulling her ears back.

When a waitress at a restaurant pushed her face toward Honey asking for kisses, that’s exactly what Honey did. Luckily we spotted our pup’s discomfort and suggested the waitress scratch Honey’s chest since she loved it so. And we told the insistent waitress that Honey only kissed people she knew well.

Actually, Honey doesn’t “kiss” or lick anyone.

We told a little white lie because the waitress “knew” that all dogs give kisses and wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less or an explanation that made sense to her.

Honey the golden retriever licks her lips.

I’m licking my lips. What part of “I’m uncomfortable don’t you understand?”

Honey couldn’t lie so we lied for her.

And since Honey couldn’t lie, after communicating the best she could, Honey’s only remaining options for dealing with the pushy waitress would be fight or flight.

Honey was wearing a leash and didn’t have freedom of movement. If she had been on her own, she would have ducked under the table or tried to run away.

I didn’t worry that Honey would bite the waitress in the face. But if the waitress had been a dog, Honey might have started a scuffle to send a message.

If  you can’t lie to prevent conflict, maybe you’re more likely to fight.

Dog “Fights”

Yes, some dogs actually fight and cause each other damage.

My first two dogs, Agatha and Christie, got into a few fights with each other that resulted in torn toenails, bloody ears, and bitten tongues.

But even when dogs don’t draw blood, a scuffle between them is scary.

There’s the growling, the leaping about, and the flashing teeth. It looks like someone is really getting hurt.

When you finally manage to untangle the dogs, you usually find no damage. There’s hardly any slobber on their coats. There’s certainly no blood.

In fact, for all that drama there’s rarely any real harm done.

Two dogs play bitey face.

Heck, even a friendly game of bitey face between friends can seem scary to people not used to it. Look at those choppers.

So maybe I’m wrong about dogs not lying.

Maybe dogs are “lying” when they “fight.”

Do Dogs Lie After All?

You’ve probably had it happen to you. I know it’s happened to me many times.

You’re walking your dog. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a strange dog, off leash, comes running up and gets in your (leashed) dog’s face.

In the distance is a clueless dog walker yelling, “Molly, Molly, come here.” And when that doesn’t work, yells to you, “Don’t worry. Mollie is really friendly.”

In a matter of seconds, your dog shares every signal that he’s uncomfortable with being confronted by this rude dog. The ears go back, his back stiffens.

If the strange dog doesn’t listen to the direct warning, your dog may start to bark, pull toward “Mollie,” and start making like he wants to fight.

Is your dog really a fighter?

Maybe. But more likely he’s lying.

He’s trying to sound loud and look scary in hopes of scaring that rude dog away. Or at least scaring his person so he’ll take responsibility for the dog he has lost control over.

So do dogs lie? And if so, when do they lie?

Dog Lies

Dogs don’t lie about loving you (like some petulant high school boyfriend who would rather die than admit you’re important to him).

Dogs don’t lie about feeling uncomfortable.

But maybe all that reactive barking on the end of a leash or a kerfuffle with another dog is all a lie.

Wolves fighting over food.

Even wolves inhibit themselves in a dispute.

You tell your Aunt Mildred her oyster and grape jelly casserole is delicious but you just had a big meal.

Your dog pretends to be big and fierce at the end of his leash.

You avoid hurting your aunt’s feelings while avoiding as much oyster and jelly casserole as possible. Your dog looks all tough and scary instead of using his sharp teeth and powerful strength to do real damage to another dog.

Maybe we’re not so different after all.

Your Turn: Do you believe dogs lie? And if so, do they lie, like humans, to prevent major conflict?


photo credits: Bitey Face – Best friends Emmi and Eevi via photopin (license); Wolves – Wolves fighting over food via photopin (license). Click images to learn more about the photographers.


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  1. Yes, but my dogs lie every morning when I get up and they tell me that dad didn’t feed them yet, so I should.

  2. That’s an interesting question. I think that dogs are brutally honest creatures MOST of the time – except when trying to disguise that they’re not feeling well.

  3. Good points! I think dogs still can’t lie – they bluff instead. …but in their case, would a bluff be considered a lie? Haha – I’m going to be thinking on this one all day.

    Monty and Harlow

  4. I think they know how to call another dogs bluff. Even Roxy will raise her hackles and growl at another dog. She is little, but wants to be seen as tough. And I know for sure she isn’t.

  5. My sisters tend to be pretty polite, but I’m not afraid to show my true feelings and yes, I instigate a fight if my sisters make me mad. Mom does find it scary, but we work through and minutes later are best friends again.

  6. This is so awesome! I truly believe this is how my dog thinks. I really don’t want to fight you and I’m more scared of you than you know, but I’m going to make you think I’ll fight.

    Great post!

  7. Hmmm… I’d say I have super honest pups, when Ziva has had enough of something she definitely lets you or more often – the other dog know that she’s done.

  8. Well, Brut never bluffed, he may have been afraid of the other dog, but he was always ready to kick their asses if necessary and he was always honest about it. BUT, he could be sneaky too, he would sometimes stand and wait for charging dog with his tail wagging, acting all friendly, and then try to lunge for the dog.

    What you would you call that? Maybe he was lying, or he just found something that worked to get a dog close to him when on a leash. He was just too smart for his own good. lol

  9. Along the lines of what Kate said about Jack and Maggie…Shadow and Ducky try to con me out of extra treats thinking I don’t know that Daddy just gave them a piece of cheese. But I know their Daddy better than they think I do. And, yes, I’ll still give them the extra treat just because they’re so darn cute. Callie got extra treats too when she was still with us physically – so did Kissy. :)

  10. Rita definitely fibs/lies/bluffs. She tries to act like a tough girl, even though she’s shivering in her boots. And she definitely lies to “the daddy” when he gets home from work, telling him she hasn’t been fed all day!

  11. I don’t often give kisses either, my bipeds don’t like being licked – but I can’t resist licking, I mean kissing, toddlers when they’ve just been eating!

  12. Zora is a lover, not a fighter. She doesn’t even bluff. So if another dog came flying at her, she would try to take off. She does exhibit all the warning body language when she is uncomfortable with an overly friendly dog – lip licks, turning away and an occassional bark – but no growling or snapping.

  13. I think Theo is very honest. Occasionally I’ll see him “ignore” a bigger dog’s aggressive attitude, but most of the time he seems willing to take them on. He does occasionally get into with my other dogs. So far no one has gotten seriously hurt, but I think it is like kids fighting. Back when my kids were small, they would get mad enough to get into a physical scuffle, but they didn’t try to do serious harm to each other. I think my pets are the same way, they want to make their point, but they don’t hate each other.

  14. Harley’s definitely told a few little white lies when I’ve asked him if Doodle Dad’s given him his Greenie and he never fesses up to the truth so he ends up getting two! #stinker