You’ve probably seen videos of Guilty dogs surrounded by their spoils of victory; the ripped up treat bags, destroyed pillows and ransacked cupboards. The dogs seem to know that they’ve done something awful, and react with sad faces as their human chastises them on camera. These guilty dogs are very clearly telling their people, “Whoops, so sorry for that! I’m the worst!”
Or are they?
Despite how convincing the guilty “I’m sorry” responses might seem, the dogs in the videos are actually reacting to their human’s tone of voice and body language. Even though dogs are emotionally complex creatures, they just don’t share our nuanced value system about the types of Behaviors that cause guilt and shame, so the theatrics are less about moral shortcomings and more about trying to keep the peace with their angry human caretakers.
Our dogs offer certain guilty looking postures hoping that we’ll calm down and stop acting upset. What’s unfortunate, though, is that we’ve come to interpret these postures as admissions of guilt when, in reality, you can get your dog to give you a guilty look just by saying “What did you do?” in an angry tone of voice (but please don’t try this at home).
So, what are the behaviors that dogs offer that look like apologies for doing something naughty, and what do their behaviors actually mean? Head over to the next page…
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