GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY?

Posted by on Apr 23, 2014 in Our Blog | Comments Off

 

guilty dog

 

 

 

Is this the look of a guilty dog?  Have you seen a similar look from your dog?

I have lost count of the number of times owners have told me that their dog “knows he did the wrong thing        because  he looks guilty”.  Really……..you think so – you had better think again.  You may think your dog knows he   is guilty,  but in reality he has no idea.  So what is really going on?  Most dog owners have all at some point come  home to  find a favourite slipper chewed, the rubbish bin emptied all over the floor or maybe a room that looks like  it has  somehow managed to snow inside, but only reveals that beautiful new cushion you just bought has been destuffed.

First of all the look you see from your dog has nothing to do with feeling guilt.  Guilt or shame are not emotions that dogs feel – it is not on their radar.  Dogs are too busy being dogs and doing doggy things.

So if they are not feeling guilt, why do they look guilty?  To understand what is going on we need to understand a little bit about dog behaviour.

Here is what we might see when we closely observe that ‘guilty’ look.  Lowered head, ears back, averted gaze, droopy eyes, head turned, rolling on back, tucked tail, thumping tail, crawling on floor, slink away and hide, whale eye and maybe a paw lift.   These behaviours are not only descriptions of the ‘guilty look’, but also behaviours associated with fear and stress.

Your dog is most likely reacting to you, to your behaviour and your body language.

When you return home to find that de-stuffed cushion all over the lounge room, you will likely react in some way, especially if it cost you a week’s wages.  Your dog has no idea what your sudden morphosis into crazy lady means, especially if the said cushion was killed some hours before you arrived home. Your dog will not relate what he did earlier, to your current behaviour.  So lets look at your possible behaviours for a moment – different tone of voice, stern looks, pointing finger, stomping on floor, frantically picking things up, bending over the dog in an aggressive way.  Dogs see and feel you are upset for some reason unknown to them, and are trying to appease you.

There was a study conducted in Budapest to investigate the guilty look. In the experiment, owners enforced a social rule that food on a table was for humans and not dogs. Dogs were then left alone with the food. Some dogs scarfed it down, others didn’t.

 

When the owners returned to the room, observers noted how dogs greeted them, noting any “guilty” looking behaviours. They found no difference in the greetings between dogs that ate the food and dogs that did not. Nor were owners able to tell whether their dogs had eaten the food in their absence.

 

The takeaway message is that dogs display the “guilty look” to owners for tons of different reasons, and its presentation does not signify knowledge of a misdeed.