One of the dangers of the internet is that not everything out there is true (insert gasp here, I know…it’s hard to imagine). One of my least favorite internet sensations is about the “guilty dog”. Sure, it’s kind of amusing and on video it appears the dog is actually feeling shame in real time but science shows…that’s just ain’t so. Don’t believe me? Then read on!
You know you’ve said it, “My Dog KNOWS he did something wrong, he even looks guilty!” while we love our dogs as though they were humans, unfortunately…they are not. When your dog “looks guilty” they are actually just responding to your body language and energy. Your anger at seeing the shredded paper or potty mess on the floor makes your dog nervous and apprehensive, thus the “guilty” look. Before you say, “but he looked guilty before I even saw anything he looked guilty” let’s move to that next point.
In a scientific study, research showed that owners were unable to determine their dogs “guilt” or innocence in the absence of evidence. This means that we, the humans, are assigning our own emotions (which Dogs aren’t capable of feeling) on their Dogs.
A dog is unable to reason and determine if a behavior is wrong or right outside of that moment and is therefore unable to look and behave in a “guilty” manner. The likely response for the “guilty look” is because in the past the dog has been punished when your body language and behavior . The studies found “…an owner’s behavior and use of scolding and reprimands are the most significant predictors of this type of behavior in dogs.”
The cowering, hiding, aversion of eye contact and looks of “shame” are actually fear. Fear that you are causing your dog. So…who’s the guilty one now?
If you want to read all the nerdy details about this study, check out www.wholedogjournal.com