Why Do We Forgive Dogs Before Humans?

Loud music make us insane. But we’ll tolerate some barking.

A driver splashing us when they drive through a puddle gets the finger. But we just grab the fabric spray when a dog with muddy paws gives us a “hug.”

We give dogs breaks because they don’t have malice. But most people don’t either.

So why do we forgive dogs before humans?

Honey the golden retriever stands on a bench.

I get the feeling this will be a “get up on a soapbox” post.
Okay, I’m ready.

Give ‘Em A Break

I’ve adopted a new ruling idea for my life.

It’s to give everyone a break for occasionally being a jerk.

After all, I do it for dogs. I don’t expect puppies to be well-behaved. If a dog barks and lunges at us on a walk, I assume they haven’t been socialized and need some forbearance (and a little distance).

And when Honey barks because she’s tired of waiting for a walk, I get up and move.

Now I’m trying to do the same thing for humans. Because everyone deserves a break. Even when they’re being a jerk.

Because I’ve been a jerk too. And I’ve gotten more than my share of breaks.

Small Mistakes Should Not Be Fatal

There’s one time when I find it hard to give people a break. It’s when they justify violent or deadly force against someone by saying, “Well, they shouldn’t have done that (selling cigarettes, talking back to police, changing lanes without signaling) if they didn’t want to get in trouble.


Is death the appropriate consequence for minor infractions of the law or irritation at being harassed?

Because if so, I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been.

Black Lives Matter demonstration.

I’ve been pulled over for speeding. I’ve gotten behind the wheel of a car after having too many drinks to drive safely and was lucky not to hurt anyone else or myself.

As a teenager, I used to break into houses under construction to have a place to hang out with my friends.

Oh yeah, and I love listening to really, really loud music. Heavy metal.

Not once has anyone taken a shot at me.

Instead, I’ve just been given breaks for being a jerk.

I feel like a puppy.

We Need More Grace

I don’t think recycling or turning down the thermostat will stop global warming. Giving a dollar to that homeless guy won’t stop poverty. And showing a little grace to someone else won’t address the systemic racism and classism that permeates our society.

But it’s a start.

And it’s a tool to help us become more thoughtful. More conscious. On the way to making bigger changes in the way we treat our citizens.

That’s never a bad thing.

So the next time someone pisses you off by their behavior, tell yourself they probably came from a puppy mill and weren’t properly socialized.

If you read click bait on Facebook that’s written to make you feel outrage and self-righteousness about how bad a parent someone is, assume they probably didn’t get enough exercise that day and they’re acting out their frustration.

And if you’re ever tempted to blame a victim of violence for a horrific response to a minor infraction, ask yourself how you’d respond to a puppy who chewed up your phone or peed on your bed.

Pit bull puppy.

Why do we forgive puppies before we forgive humans?

I bet you wouldn’t shoot him, right? Because some reactions are just insane.


photo credits (Black Lives Matter demonstration): Million March Minnesota in downtown Minneapolis via photopin (license), (Pit bull puppy): Baby puppy pit bull, Bach via photopin (license). Click on the images to learn more about the photographers.



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  1. Love the puppy mill analogy. Will have to remember that one.

  2. All great points. But puppies are cuter than most people.

  3. You are so right, Pamela! We all need to show more compassion toward others (and ourselves when we do something “wrong”). I have beaten myself up over a lot of things – most recently over missing the morning funeral of a dear friend’s father – that I needed to forgive myself for in order to move on. We’ve all done some “crazy” things that we’re lucky didn’t kill or seriously injure us or someone else. But we need to learn from them and move on, and forgive others for doing those same things.

  4. Food for thought.

  5. Love this post! This kind of generosity of spirit is just pawsome. I will definitely keep it in mind and remind myself “they probably came from a puppy mill and weren’t properly socialized.” Giving puppies a break will make you feel good inside and out and will be a terrific way to ‘pay it forward.’ <3

  6. You are making an important point in a wonderfully non threatening way. We understand when dogs have not been socialized but not always when people have not been.

  7. A very thoughtful post, Pamela. I also give people the benefit of the doubt when they act like jerks. I’ve had this conversation with friends who complain that some people are jerks all day long, everyday and they shouldn’t get away with it because they never learn from their mistakes or change. My answer to that is, there’s no way of knowing if they’re fulltime jerks or just having a bad day. If they’re always a jerk, karma will catch up with them soon or later anyway so why should I allow them to affect my attitude in a negative way or ruin my day.

    And yes, I’ve been given a pass many times for being a jerk. Thank you, kind people! :)

  8. Great post, I guess I don’t forgive humans as easy because dogs don’t do terrible things on purpose or to spite another being.
    Dogs really are my favorite creatures…after dealing with an internet troll today humans just don’t typically make my list except for the rare few.
    I should try to be better about people though.

  9. That’s a great point about socialization. Dogs, and people, aren’t raised the same way… haven’t learnt the same “stuff”. And many of us are raised different ways, with different backgrounds and rude to one might not be rude to the next (different dog cultures, different dog breeds).

    Like how the golden who likes to chest bump in play is seen as rude by one of my herding dogs, but it’s just play to the golden. Maybe we should take Mort’s lead when goes “hey, I’ll quit running around and chest bump like you.”

    Intent, malice, and continued malice… that’s what we should really be looking at. Rude is just rude and heck we’ve all that that day or misread a cue and sort of overblow the scenario, but intentional maliciousness is different and what I work to avoid in life altogether. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that one in a dog :)

    Terrific post!

  10. I like this post :) Makes me think of some of these posts I see where police use excessive force on people. I like the idea of thinking the jerks came from puppy mills lol!

  11. HA, awesome post & a welcome reminder to give people a break. I’ll do it tomorrow, promised :-) There’s this woman in our neighborhood who recently called us names AND the cops on us because we let our boy Buzz pee on that little patch of grass in between her front yard and the street…the next time I see her, I will most certainly think of your puppy mill analogy.

  12. Fantastic post, as always. You make some excellent points at both the micro level (let’s try to think about where people might be coming from before we leap to take offense) and the broader, societal level (some of us are lucky enough r be treated like puppies and some aren’t). I like how you’ve mixed the two ideas here. On one side, how do I – on the most basic level – interact with those around me with empathy and compassion? On the other, how have my perceptions been shaped by getting cut slack as a “puppy” that other groups do not? Sometimes, it’s like certain groups are treated as harmless Golden puppies while others are feared as “dangerous” Pit Bulls. Dogs as analogy for some of the thorny racial issues that society is wrestling with – what a skilled and thoughtful comparison.

    • Ugh – please excuse the typos and bad grammar. I’m on my phone (and obviously came from some sort of grammatically incorrect puppy mill).

  13. You’re absolutely right, when I think about the way I’ve been treated it’s pretty much like a puppy. I’ve gotten the occasional slap on the wrist for doing some pretty crappy things. For others it’s not that way at all, and I’m conscious of it every day at work. I work next to the county jail, and every day there’s people getting let out that don’t have anyone to pick them up, so they end up at the bus stop in front of my work. It makes me grateful that I have supportive friends and family, and it’s pretty much guaranteed I could find a ride and place to stay if needed. Not everyone has that, and I couldn’t imagine how much differently my life would have turned out if I had been treated as anything other than a puppy.

  14. Another great post Pamela and the message is clear. I often find myself getting outraged at things people do and I could do a much better job forgiving them as easily as I forgive my dogs. Death should never ben outcome for being a jerk or being stupid. We humans seem to have less patience and sympathy for our fellow homo sapiens, but especially for those who are not like us. I wonder why? What makes us see others as expendable for a simple infraction or mistake while being outraged for others?

    I suspect I’ll be thinking about this for some time.

  15. Thank you. This is spot on. And I hate to see it, but this applies to the dentist who shot the lion. There should be appropriate consequences for what he did. But people carrying signs calling for his death? No.

    One of my favorite teachers says it like you do – we’re all jerks. Me too. Grace is good.