Dog News: Do Dogs Really Feel Guilt?

dog guilt_dog fear

A research study completed by Barnard College in New York, discovered intriguing news. When dogs appear to be feeling guilty after a misdeed, we could be wrong. The dogs are showing fear instead. Oftentimes, dog owners apply human attributes to their dogs. For example, dog owners may come home to find a new pillow torn to shreds. Initially, the dog would be quite happy to see you. After discovering your dog’s surprise, you might feel shocked – then angry. After beginning to scold the dog, the dog might begin to indicate signs of guilt and apology. Are these really signs of guilt? Or an emotion far less complex?

Signs of Fear, Not Guilt

Dogs often show signs of fear rather than guilt. As dog owners we misconstrue their signs of fear, with the familiar emotion of guilt. Here are key signs of fear in dogs:

  • Cowering
  • Showing the whites of their eyes
  • Pinning the ears back
  • Yawning
  • Licking the air
  • Tail tucking
  • Withdrawl or hiding
  • Lowering of the head

Dogs and Humans are Different

Although we would like to hope our dogs feel guilty about disappointing us, Dr. Horowitz found different. Instead, dogs only feel fear in response to our scolding, yelling, our any other negative reaction.

Dr. Horowitz, the lead author on this study states:

“It seems unlikely that they have the same types of thinking about thinking that we do, because of their really different brains, but in most ways dogs brains are more similar to ours than dissimilar.”

Although dogs have memories, their memory does not work in the way that it works for humans. These differences make it less likely for our loving dogs to be expressing fear in the same way we feel guilt.

For more positive ways to train your dog, see our top strategies for dog training success here.

Source: “Disambiguating the “guilty Look”: Salient Prompts to a Familiar Dog Behaviour.” Behavioural Processes. U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2009. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

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