It’s one of the oldest tricks: creating a distraction so the audience doesn’t pay attention to the main happening.

The deceptive communication tactic takes countless forms. It can be intricately planned or happen instinctively. It can be carried out with diabolical motives or ensue with utterly wholesome intentions. Its implications can be consequential or insignificant. Accordingly, every being on the planet with enough mental capability will play the distraction game for various reasons at certain times.

Spotting a distraction for what it is can provide essential insights. Therefore, besides good instincts, what do you need to recognize a diversionary ploy as well as expose a matter that someone is trying to conceal?

A story about a beloved family dog demonstrates what any good detective knows: the need to identify the motive.


Although we fed him well, our highly food-motivated dog never bypassed an opportunity to grab a treat. Muffin not only had an insatiable appetite for human chow but also a brain to maximize the odds of satisfying his cravings. Imagining the wheels turning in his head as he’d eyeball an enticing, out-of-reach morsel, we learned that he’d succeed if given the slightest advantage.

Entering on the Sly

Twice, I failed to shut the door to the kitchen pantry completely, granting Muffin entry when left on his own. He celebrated once by hosting a cereal party to which he invited our other dog, who never got into trouble. (I couldn’t blame my “good” boy for joining in!) Another time, taking his pick from a bag of Halloween candy while home alone, Muffin greeted my son and me at the door with a Tootsie Pop in his mouth!

Grabbing on the Fly

Although he was too small to reach kitchen counters and tabletops by standing on his hind legs, Muffin was resourceful and fast. Moreover, that dog could jump and would leap to grab a goodie the way a frog goes after bug.

In preparation for one Fourth of July cookout, I’d placed a dozen frozen beef patties on the counter to defrost. I didn’t notice the fractional section of a patty that was resting slightly over the edge of the tray, but Muffin spotted it. As soon as I turned my back, he launched and snatched the frozen burger. Clinching his jaws, he held the prize in his mouth, letting go only to scarf down the chunk of raw meat that had melted from his hot saliva. Thankfully, he didn’t swallow enough to make himself sick!

Reaching for the Sky

Muffin, flexing his agile hind legs to propel himself onto furniture, used a chair beside a built-in desk section of the kitchen counter for a step up. The main drawback to getting on the countertop was his fear of navigating back down.

Indeed, on one occasion, I arrived home to find him stretched out like a cat on the counter, as he had no choice but to wait for someone to rescue him. His intention was to take possession of a roast I’d left cooking in a crockpot. To his dismay, the contraption was on the kitchen island, several feet away—again, thankfully!

Deceiving with a Cry

Instead of discouraging Muffin by keeping chairs close to the table and counter to bar access via their seats, our actions inspired our canine to circumvent our controls through deception. When we were gathered at the table for what he deemed a drool-worthy meal, Muffin would dash to the glass-paned back door, peer out, growl and bark excitedly, turn back to us with a look of urgency, and growl and bark some more.

Translation: Something is out there! All of you need to get up from that table immediately, go outside, and see what it is! I’ll guard the table.

If we hadn’t understood his motives, Muffin would have compelled us to leave our meal to him as we responded to his fake alarm.

It doesn’t take a genius to create a plausible distraction, but some of the smartest people are easily tricked because they don’t look beyond the obvious.

Don’t be fooled. Trust your instincts and unleash your curiosity. Be a detective who questions motives that, in turn, guide your investigation. When you uncover what you need to know, you’ll often find it was “hidden” in plain sight.

My best to you,


Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

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