Do Dogs Feel Guilty When Causing Trouble?
1 August, 2017
dog feel guilty

We know our dogs love to please us and want us to be happy with them!  But, they are only dogs and will get into trouble by eating out of the trash can, chewing up your favorite shoes or other havoc!  And when we see them right after their crazy antics and they have that look of guilt: head down, ears back, body lowered, does this mean that dogs feel guilty when causing trouble?

Dogs definitely feel empathy as we do

Dogs do appear to care how we feel and not just when we’re upset. We know from our own experience that our dogs often seem to sympathize when we feel lonely or sad, tearful or happy. The dogs may snuggle with us or do something silly to cheer with us when we’re happy.  Some studies have shown that dogs feel empathy not only to crying owners but to new people that are crying.

Dogs seem to have the capacity to feel guilty

It seems dogs might have the capacity to feel guilt.  They can at like it. At least, the behaviors mimic what we associate with feeling shame or apology.  Or maybe they just anticipate that they may have done something wrong.  When your dog greets you and they have that look or that body language that makes you ask what they’ve done!

And then your dog looks guiltier as you try to find out whatever damage has been done. Maybe you find something he’s chewed. Or you could be just concerned that your dog swallowed something dangerous.

Your tone of voice can certainly teach dogs to feel guilty the next troubling act.

Behaviorists tend to think that your tone of voice and behavior can teach your dog how to react the next time.  So, it could be part of training.  When dogs learn that you get upset if they scatter the garbage, they theoretically may play guilty after such behavior and tell on themselves even before you know something has happened.  And it’s hard to be unhappy when they give you that look!

Puppies act guilty because they are still learning

Puppies tend to show these same apologetic guilty looks when they’ve done nothing wrong. Often you might walk through the door and immediately the puppy acts guilty. So your voice goes into scolding mode as you search high and low for the infraction—but you find nothing wrong.  And your pup has done nothing wrong.

You may have inadvertently taught your puppy to apologize based on certain body cues and context of the environment. Your tone of voice, the way you communicate with the puppy associated with the trigger of a homecoming, can teach the dog to act guilty every time you return home, whether he’s done something wrong or not.  But, you must catch them in the act so they associate the troubled antics are unwanted.

What is the take-away?  Do dogs feel guilty when they don’t something wrong?  No one knows for sure, but most experts think that when dogs give you that guilty look, they are most likely reacting to your upset behavior, tone of voice and body language.  Even if they have done nothing wrong!

How can we understand our dog’s body language, this article just might help:  Understanding your dog’s body language.

One thought on “Do Dogs Feel Guilty When Causing Trouble?”

  1. My Rottweiler Bella doesn’t do much apologizing when she has done something bad as she just ignores me when I say, “Bella, were you a bad girl? Did you do something bad and made your mommy sad?” Nothing! But all I have to do is change the last word and attack of the slobbery kisses is on.
    What is the phrase that makes her so apologetic?
    “Did you do something bad and make your mommy mad?”
    But she is my baby girl and a rott as well, obviously she’s quickly forgiven and mommy is glad! Maybe she has a thing for Doctor Suess.

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