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He knows he’s guilty! Right?

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Do dogs feel guilty when they've done something wrong? Common dog body language myths busted

In This Post:

In this post:

My dog knows he’s guilty before I even react

Do dogs feel guilty when they’ve done something wrong?

Do dogs feel guilt? 

Why does my dog look guilty?

Do dogs feel guilty when they’ve done something wrong?

Have you guys seen the really “funny” videos of dogs cowering from their owner after they have done something naughty? They are all over the internet, and I actually don’t find them that funny. In every video there are always dozens of comments insisting the dog is cowering because they knew they did something wrong and they are remorseful. I am sorry to break your bubble, but that is not actually why the dogs are looking remorseful. They are scared of their angry owner, not guilty.

The body language people often label as guilty include the dogs turning their head away, licking their lips, shaking, and panting, among other things. In 2009 a study by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz confirmed that dogs would respond with the same body language to their owner’s disapproval or scolding whether or not they had done something naughty. This showed that their behavior is in response to their owners’ cues rather than their own feelings of guilt.

The Bottom Line:
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References:

Buttner, A. P., & Strasser, R. (2013). Contagious yawning, social cognition, and arousal: An investigation of the processes underlying shelter dogs’ responses to human yawns. Animal Cognition, 17(1), 95–104. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0641-z

Casey, R., 2002. Fear and stress. In: Horwitz, D.F., Mills, D.S., Heath, S. (Eds.), BSAVA Manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine. British Small Animal Veternary Association, Dorset, UK, pp. 144–153.

Horowitz, A. (2009). Disambiguating the “guilty look”: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour. Behavioural Processes, 81(3), 447–452. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2009.03.014

Kuhne, F., Hößler, J.C., Struwe, R., 2012. Effects of human–dog familiarity on dogs’ behavioural responses to petting. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 142, 176–181.

Kuhne, F., Hößler, J. C., & Struwe, R. (2014). Emotions in dogs being petted by a familiar or unfamiliar person: Validating behavioural indicators of emotional states using heart rate variability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 161, 113–120. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2014.09.020

Overall, K.L., 1997. Normal canine behavior. In: Overall, K.L. (Ed.), Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. Mosby, St. Louis, USA, pp. 9–44.

Silva, K., Bessa, J., & de Sousa, L. (2012). Auditory contagious yawning in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): first evidence for social modulation. Animal Cognition, 15(4), 721–724. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0473-2

Taylor, A. M., Reby, D., & McComb, K. (2009). Context-Related Variation in the Vocal Growling Behaviour of the Domestic Dog (Canis familiaris). Ethology, 115(10), 905–915. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0310.2009.01681.x

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