Do Dogs Feel ‘Guilty’ Like We Do? Here’s What The Science Says

Plenty of dog owners have seen their pets make a “guilty face” after doing something wrong. You know the look — the lowered ears, the ducked head, the droopy eyes. But can dogs actually feel shame?

Probably not, according to an article that appeared last week in the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. Researchers told the paper that when a dog appears to be acting contrite, it may just be responding to the angry or dominant body language of its owner.

“I had a client who had three dogs and whenever something happened like a shoe was chewed, it was always one of them that had the guilty look,” Dr. Ljerka Ostojic, a comparative psychologist at Cambridge University in England, told The Telegraph. “Yet often she was not the dog who had done it. She was just the most timid dog, and got frightened more quickly by her owner’s reaction.”

Ostojic is the lead author of a study published in February in the journal Behavioural Processes, in which researchers found no support for the idea that dogs display the “guilty look” when they’re not actually being scolded.

“We cannot know for sure because we cannot ask them,” Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University, told The Huffington Post in an email.

But, she said, “the body language we are really looking at… is simply a submissive response to the body language the higher ranking person is using. We are towering over them, showing direct eye contact, using an accusatory tone of voice.”

A 2009 study showed that domestic dogs tended to look the most “guilty” when they were being scolded by their owners — even if they hadn’t done anything wrong.

While it’s not —> Read More