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My dog made a "serious mischief" this morning.

Now I am blatantly ignoring him to show my anger and disapproval (obviously after having seriously grounded him immediately after the act). Dogs usually don’t like to be ignored, and it seems obvious he associates this disinterest with it at first.

However I am wondering how long will he be able to associate my disinterest with this morning event ?

(FWIW, it’s a Husky, almost 2 years old.)

Edit : To be clear, by no mean do I believe this will solely fix his behaviour, and how to fix it is not the point of the question, I know it’s a long journey and I’m already taking more serious actions about that.

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    I think killing chickens is... a little more than mischief. I've no idea what's the 'right' thing to do here but I suspect you'd need a little more to deal with high prey drive
    – Journeyman Geek
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 5:03
  • @JourneymanGeek Oh, of course, that's a serious issue and it will be a long journey, but that's not the point of the question. I mentioned this event only to illustrate the background behind my motivation for showing him my anger, but it could have been something else (although I guess the more anecdotical the event, the faster the association will fade away). Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 22:04
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    (BTW, I'm not a native English speaker, I struggled to find a more appropriate word without much success, feel free go suggest one.) Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 22:07

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TL;DR: A dog can associate a punishment with its own actions for no longer than a few seconds.

Dogs live in the moment. They are unable to plan more than a moment ahead and they cannot associate reactions with anything they did more than a moment ago.

You could tell a child of 3 - 4 years: "You did this bad thing yesterday, that's why you're not allowed to play right now." The child might understand the words, but the implications feel unfair to them. The child may say "I'm sorry", but what it really means is "I don't like the way you treat me right now, so I will say sorry because I hope you'll remove the punishment, not because I actually feel sorry."

A dog's brain is only capable of thoughts and associations a roughly 3 - 4 years old child could have. You can tell a dog whatever you want, it will not understand your words. However, it will understand your tone and know that you are angry. Due to dogs living in the moment, the dog will not be able to understand that you are angry because of something it did in the past. So, similar to the child, the dog may display submissive behavior (= "say sorry") to placate you, but only because it doesn't like you being angry at it. The dog is unable to actually feel sorry or regret past actions.

Side note: of course a dog can learn patterns. If every time you say "sit" and the dog sits down, it gets a reward, so it will be happy sitting down for you. If one person was angry or violent every time around the dog, it would also learn to avoid this person. But it usually needs several repetitions for a dog to learn such patterns.

However, even learning the right associations can be difficult for a dog if the reward is delayed for only a few seconds. This study tested how well dogs performed the commands "sit" and "lay down" that where already known to them. In one test group the reward for following the command came immediately, in the other test group the reward was delayed by up to 2 seconds.

Dogs required significantly more time to complete the commands in the delayed trials compared with the nondelayed trials (T = 1.5, N = 10, P < 0.01). The handlers had to use significantly more commands to complete the series of behaviors in delayed conditions (T = 5, N = 10, P < 0.025). Moreover, dogs gazed at the projected image of their handlers for significantly less time.

This shows that dogs do have difficulties connecting their actions to a reward after mere seconds.

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    Nice answer, I’m satisfied with it. It’s nice to see scientists are working on this topic, although this article seems to be a very first step. The sample size and setup are probably debatable and I’ll have to read it again to fully understand (there’s a freely available version online), but it definitely seems to corroborate the first part of your answer, and in conclusion it really doesn’t make any sense to show disinterest for several hours. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 16:39
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The dog will not recognize a so-called silent treatment as a request to remedy its own behavior; it will never happen.

Huskies, especially at that age, can be very problematic when it comes to being generally destructive. A friend of mine once had one at that age with separation anxiety, a common trait to Huskies. The dog completely destroyed the inside cab of his truck, chewing it completely down to the metal on the doors, the dash, and the seats trying to get out. The dog was left in the car for less than 30 minutes. Your dog will not associate distance or detachment the same way you do. You should actually be spending more time and energy working with the dog. A number of questions arise, are these chickens penned in? Reinforce their pen. Are they running loose? They are taunting the dog's natural desire to hunt. Maybe put your dog on a dog run. Consider the breed you're dealing with may not be the right one for you.

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  • Welcome to pets.se and thanks for your answer. I edited it to extract and highlight the part which is relevant to my question. I also edited my question to remove the background so we can focus on the question itself and not the problematic behaviour, which I’m already taking care of by different means. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 11:04
  • I forgot to mention you could improve your answer with references. Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 16:40
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It is more important that the dog not associate the misbehaviour with getting attention. The goal is not so much to discourage, as to not encourage.

Don't worry about them making the connection; focus on them not making the wrong connection.

And think about ways to give them something else to amuse themselves with, and/or tiring them out so they're less inclined to go looking for something else to play with, and/or making a repetition of this action more difficult or impossible. If the dog can't resist chasing a moving target (many can't), and is being too rough with his "motorized toys", the human may need to do whatever it takes to deny the dog access -- leashes, runs, fenced chickenyard.

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