Do dogs feel guilty?
Research shows that dogs do not feel guilty. This study investigated 14 dogs. The dogs had the option to disobey their owners and eat the treat or not. The owners did not know if the dog ate the treat or if the scientist took the treat away. Even if the dog did not misbehave, he still “acted” guilty when the owner was upset. The research showed that the so-called guilty look was a response to cues from the owner rather than the appreciation of a misdeed.
Why does my dog look guilty?
Some dog owners claim to know that their dog did something wrong even before they discover the transgression, just by seeing the “guilty” look on their dog’s face. Research shows that dogs do not feel guilty.
The study had 14 dogs in a room with a treat. The owner was instructed to tell the dog to leave the treat alone. When the owner left the room, the research team would either tell the dog to go ahead and eat the treat, take the treat for themselves or let the dog decide. The owners were not aware of this. They only knew that the treat was gone. The research showed that the dogs who did not eat the treat still acted “guilty” upon seeing their owner return. The conclusion was that dogs pick up on our smallest signals, even if we are not yelling and making a big fuss over the misdeed. Dogs still acted “guilty” even if they did nothing wrong. This “guilty” response may be due to dog owners expectation of misbehavior due to the dog’s history of it.
Dr. Susan Hazel of the University of Adelaide agreed. “There have been a number of studies, and it’s pretty clear that dogs don’t feel or display guilt.”
Elaine Henley, an animal behaviorist, and lecturer in Scotland said that dogs could feel emotions but that emotions such as guilt were just human ideas.
“We don’t know if animals feel them and must be careful about attributing human emotions to dogs,” she said. “The dogs in the videos don’t understand they have done wrong, so can’t be shamed into good behavior. Often, they are just as likely to go and do the same thing again. So when they look guilty, they are reacting to their owner’s behavior — the tone of voice, the gestures, maybe even the way their owner’s smell.”