Blame games in the dog world


Can dogs feel guilty?

We all know those eyes after the paper towel got destroyed or the flip-flops got chewed on. We ask then, why do they keep doing it? They know it’s wrong! They give us the puppy eyes and try to be cute! They know what they did! Do they? Or is it just a reaction to our not very positive emotions and raising the white flag instinctively to avoid confrontation?

We are brought up in a culture that teaches us to feel guilty, shameful, or embarrassed for things we have done. Although dogs do have a degree of consciousness and are aware of the immediate consequences of their actions, it is still not known if they are truly aware of how their behavior affects others. A dog’s cerebral cortex (thinking brain) is smaller than that of a human, it is believed that the dog does not have the capacity to generate something as complex as the self-consciousness needed to feel shameful or feel guilty (<- check the scientific reference here)

Picture this, you come home and walk into a puddle, your first reaction is…. You see your dog who is super excited to see you and you go: WHAT DID YOU DO???!!!??? Now your dog’s answer is simple: a second ago I was happy to see you but now I am not sure. Let’s look at the chain events that took place before you came in:

Day 1

7am you left for work and your dog settled comfortable in their place

10am Your dog is a sleeping and a truck passed by and honked the horn, startling your dog: They bark and pee out of fright hence the puddle puddle (soiling the house) if this increases, next step is mass destruction of the house.

10:15 Your dog managed to settle after having a drink and fell asleep.

15:00 You return: the dog hears the door opening, he is bouncing off to greet you.

And here comes; What did you do???!!!??? And we start: No Buddy, naught Buddy, vigorously cleaning and cursing under your breath, then comes the famous time out – putting the dog either in a crate/lock in the bathroom etc.

Day 2 and 3 has similar situations resulting in puddles or actually poo (with same reaction from us).

Day 4

7am you left for work and your dog settled comfortable in their place

10am Your dog is a sleeping. After this your dog might actually anticipate the fright of the honk o other noise and pee because he is nervous.

15:00 Your return, the dog is still in his place and not really happy to see you return when you come home, his head down/ears pinned back – Your thoughts, he knows he did something wrong, what You don’t realize is that it is you who conditioned your dog to look/feel guilty at the sight of you upon your return.

So, your doggie learned to raise the white flag and look submissive and cute (that we interpret feeling guilty) when you have elevated anger in your tone or not a good mood.

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