“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?
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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?