It’s Only Funny until Your Dog Runs out of Spoons

We have all laughed at videos showing dogs and babies, dogs and vacuum cleaners, dogs and balloons … We pass these on to our Facebook friends. But it’s time to stop. We are laughing at dogs feeling anxious, and that’s not funny.

It has to do with spoons. Did you know your dog has spoons? He does, and it’s bad if he runs out of them.

The Spoon Theory

If you know anyone with a chronic illness, you are probably familiar with Spoon Theory.

The gist of Spoon Theory is this:

Each morning, a person with a chronic illness wakes up with a certain number of “spoons”. These spoons represent the number of interactions she can handle that day. Once she runs out of spoons, she needs time to relax and recharge.  If she doesn’t, it could result in a physical or mental crisis (or a really bad day tomorrow). Depending on the day, she may have more spoons (feeling good!) or less (bad pain day).

Got it? Let’s move on!

Human Spoons vs. Dog Spoons

As a human, you choose how you spend your spoons. If you know you have an early day, you can go to bed earlier. If your arthritis is acting up, you can skip gardening.

Dogs don’t get to choose how they spend their spoons. We do. We decide whether they should “meet” another dog. We decide to let the toddler use our dog as a pillow. We decide to walk past that house where the dog is outside barking.

How Many Spoons Does a Dog Have?

A well-socialized, happy dog may have lots of spoons. A fearful or reactive dog may have only a few.

An Example of a Dog Losing Spoons

We remove a spoon from our dog every time we expose him to a situation that makes him anxious. Here are just a few of the signals we tend to miss:

  • Stiff body
  • Ears pinned back
  • Whale eyes (wide eyes with lots of white showing)
  • Leaning away
  • Licking lips


What if your dog is having a bad day? Let’s say that a dog snapped at him on his daily walk. There’s construction next door and lots of loud noises and strangers in hard hats. And he ate something in the backyard that upset his tummy.

Now what happens when your daughter comes home?

Dog Bites Never Come “Out of Nowhere”

Your daughter likes to hug and kiss your dog, and that has never been a problem. But if your dog was having a bad day and had run out of spoons … well, he could end up snarling at your daughter. Dogs tolerate a lot, but on this day, it was more than your dog could take.

Conserving Your Dog’s Spoons

How can you help your dog? Maybe by leaving him home instead of taking him to the soccer game. Or letting him relax in his crate with a bully stick, away from your guests.

Most importantly, you can help by being present with your dog and knowing when to remove him from a situation. A dog isn’t able to say, “Hey, I’ve got one spoon left and if this kid pulls my ear one more time, I’m done!” Be your dog’s advocate. Your dog will love you for it.
By E. Foley for Your Dog’s Friend (

Your Dog’s Friend is a non-profit that educates & supports dog “owners” through free workshops, behavior and training advice, referrals, and positive classes.


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