“I’m So Angry I Could Eat a Tissue”

Jana01
Photo by Cathy Condon

When Jana gets angry at me, she takes one thing (usually a tissue) out of the wastebasket, shreds it, and leaves the pieces next to the wastebasket.

A quick Google search will turn up dozens of articles on why dogs eat trash or how to get them to stop, and many will suggest that they’re attracted to the food or your scent on items, or that they are obeying an irresistible impulse. Some will suggest that training can solve the problem; some will suggest management (trash cans with lids). Many dogs get into the trash; why do I think it is a reflection of her anger with me? I know my dog.

When Jana was a puppy, she nearly always shredded the trash when I left her home. As a dog newbie, I once followed the advice of a trainer to put hot sauce on the trash to discourage this behavior. Instead, I discovered that Jana loves spicy food. And spicy “food.” (Her definition of food is much, much broader and more inclusive than mine.) After she had enthusiastically thanked me for adding condiments to her snack, I asked her to help me pick up the remnants and put them (back) in the trash can. She did. I never put sauce on her snack again.

As Jana matured, she became a responsible dog who follows the rules and respects boundaries. She’s very helpful and thoughtful. I could leave a steak dinner on the counter and go out for the day (unlikely; I keep a vegetarian home) and it would still be there when I got home. She is 100 percent trustworthy around guests and snacks, even if the snacks smell really good and are at dog-nose level on a coffee table. She has mostly stopped the trash-shredding behavior.

But.

When I leave her at home at a time that is just wrong — it’s close to mealtime, or I have already been gone much of the day and I come in and leave again soon after, or it looks like I am going to do something fun that should include dogs — I will come home to a single shredded tissue on the floor next to the trash can.

I know that serious dog scientists (most of whom seem to never have actually lived with a real dog) will howl over my interpretation of this behavior, but here it is anyhow. I think that Jana is expressing her hurt feelings and anger in a way that is uniquely her own. She could be very destructive; thankfully, she’s not that kind of girl. She could ignore me when I returned, but she’s not the type to hold grudges, either. I believe that she has thought this through and decided that shredding one piece of trash makes a statement.

As Cali does with hiding before brushing her teeth, Jana is telling me how she feels. Both girls do this articulately and in their own way — and then move on. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone were so mature and as effective and clear in their communications?

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3 thoughts on ““I’m So Angry I Could Eat a Tissue”

  1. My Border Collie Storm exhibits similar behaviors, and I agree with your interpretation of what your dog is trying to express! I also think it is a form of release for them. An outlet for their “frustration” if you will. Storm, my collie, used to drag one of my shoes into his crate and chew it up when I had done something to go against his “better judgement.” He also does an odd thing where he grabs a toilet paper roll out of my bathroom wastecan and parades it by me before chewing it up in his crate. It usually happens if I am in my office and ignoring him…he will walk by the doorway and show it to me then walk off with it (mom, look what I have, you better pay attention to me). My kitchen drying towels have recently been added to this repertoire.

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