I’ve stopped myself from writing a post about Sawyer destroying the house a few times now. Each time I sit down to write a post like that, I realize that all dogs chew and scratch and tear things up, so why would anybody want to read about my dog doing it?

Well, I still don’t have an answer to that question, but damn it if I’m not writing it this time.

I came home from work, and through the window I could see that the living room was littered with torn scraps of paper. Sawyer had his paws up on the window sill, and was looking at me expectantly as I approached the door. But when I opened it, he had gone to hide in the back room, as is custom when he’s done something wrong.

It was a magazine. Nothing important this time — he’s also recently torn open a blanket, been found chewing on multiple pillows, and gnawed on a thankfully closed pocket knife — but, still, I hadn’t even looked all the way through it yet.

So I brought (read: dragged) him from the back of the house to the living room, and as he cowered below me, flattening the still-wet shreds of paper into the carpet, I was met with the old question: should I punish him?

Would you?

Would you?

My answer was yes. Eternally and resoundingly, yes. If a dog misbehaves, he should be reprimanded. I try very hard to use positive reinforcement whenever possible, but how do you praise a dog when he’s not tearing up your stuff? In situations like these, positive reinforcement isn’t an option. The choice then is to let the dog go without chastising him (thus admitting that destructive behavior is acceptable) or to respond negatively, to somehow link undesirable behavior to discomfort or fear in the dogs mind.

But punishments come in varied degrees, and knowing exactly how to react is hard. How much is enough? What specifically should be done? Does the punishment need to be physical? I think the answer to this last question is yes, sometimes. Not for every transgression, and never cruelly, but a smack on the head can be very effective because it removes all ambiguity. The language barrier between humans and dogs can be difficult to overcome, but it’s hard to misinterpret the meaning of a spank.

So I smacked him, felt the familiar twinge of regret – was that too much? – and put him outside. As I cleaned up the mess – with a rake, and with great success – I listened to him howl at the door. After shoveling the remnants of the magazine into the trash, I opened the door to let him in. But instead of rushing past me, he sat there, patiently waiting to be called in. I patted my leg, and he hurried to me, mouth open and tail wagging hard. We were friends again.

Seriously, a rake. Try it.

Seriously, a rake. Try it.

Did I expect anything different? Maybe a little. But I suppose that’s the point, the reason dogs resonate within us the way they do. Maybe they’re just a way to externalize our affection, to see it echoed, amplified. I’m nowhere near the first person to think about these things – here’s a compilation of dog quotes, some simple, some grossly sentimental. Where do I fall in that spectrum? – but, again, that’s the point. There’s a reason lists like that one exist. None of those quotes truly distill the importance of a dog. I can’t do it either, but regardless, I’m thankful to have a friend like Sawyer.

I’ve got a few more pictures of Sawyer’s household victims. I’ll just leave them here. Click to enlarge.

– Matt

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