Do dogs really feel guilt? Or do we just project our own perceptions on those adorable and supposedly guilty faces?
Our dogs’ faces sure look guilty when we confront them about a mess, but is guilt what they are really feeling?
Chewed shoes and undies, rooms full of fluff, tissue and trash scattered everywhere: most dog owners can relate to this! We then proceed to interrogate our dogs and inevitably end up laughing anyway because who can resist those guilty doggy faces?
A website called Dog Shaming that features naughty and guilty-looking dogs has thousands of followers worldwide. Their sad eyes and heartbreaking whimpers do make us think they’re sorry for their actions, but it seems that we are wrong.
“There’s been a number of studies done and it’s pretty clear that dogs don’t feel or display guilt,” veterinary scientist Doctor Susan Hazel said.”It’s not the way their brains work.”
In a recent study, researchers put food and dogs in a room and when their owners returned they tested whether perceptions of the animal’s guilty look matched the facts.
“Owners are no better than just a chance guess at telling if the dog has eaten or not,” Dr. Hazel said.
Why do dogs display ‘guilty’ faces?
Dr. Hazel said that a dog’s ‘guilty’ face was evidence of how incredibly dogs have adapted to living with humans over thousands of years.
“Dogs will show appeasement-like behavior that some owners interpret as guilt,” Dr Hazel said. “They will also react to the person’s body language, so dogs are absolute geniuses at picking up what we think before even we know it.You could look at it as a form of higher parasitism, but it’s mutual because we get just as much out of the relationship as they do.”
It seems dogs have become crafty over time and know to keep us happy. While they love us lots, we’re also their meal ticket.
Like many dog lovers, Dr. Hazel thinks dog-shaming photos are just good fun most of the time. But she is concerned that unlike dogs, people are not as good at picking up signs.
“About 20 per cent of dogs suffer from separation anxiety and that often leads to all sorts of behavior, like chewing up the sofa, which ends up as dog shaming,” she said. “Other people see it as something a bit funny, but I see a dog that’s in a fair bit of distress and actually needs some help.If they don’t get it, then that’s a problem.”
Dogs do not understand shaming
Tracey Jones has been training guide dogs for 17 years. She has learned that dogs do not live in the past. They live and learn in the present.
She said that a dog doesn’t remember an item he or she chewed up earlier in the day.
“It’s more about your reaction right then and there than what happened four hours ago,” Jones said. “Is [dog shaming] cruel? Probably! The dog’s a bit confused more than anything, because it knows that you are upset but it doesn’t know why.”
She mentioned that best way to teach a dog is to find out what motivates them and keep the messages simple and consistent.
“Food is always good with Labradors,” she said.