Do Dogs Ever Feel Guilty?

dogs wearing raincoat

Dog owners like to think that their animals actually exhibit guilt when they’ve done something wrong and are confronted with the evidence. However, researchers say that dogs don’t have the capacity to feel guilt or shame, even though people might think they look guilty or ashamed. Many studies have shown that canine brains aren’t capable of such complex feelings. Research suggests that when dogs appear sheepish, they are simply reacting to the scolding tone of your voice or your body language, and are bracing for whatever punishment they associate with those stimuli.


Personifying our pets:

  • In 2015, a Cambridge University researcher tested dogs and their owners. After the owners taught their dogs not to eat a biscuit, they left the room. A researcher then either removed the biscuit or urged the dog to eat it.
  • When the owners returned to the room and saw that the biscuit was gone, they were asked whether they thought the dog had eaten the biscuit, judging by the dog’s expression. The owners were unable to accurately identify guilt in their pets’ demeanor.
  • Animal behaviorist Elaine Henley explained that dogs “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.”

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