Saturday, July 4, 2009

News Reel - Does your dog really feel guilt?

A new study was done to test whether or not dogs actually feel guilt. You know the "uh oh I did something bad" look that many of us get when we come home? Check out this article from the Toronto Star this week

Does your dog really feel guilt?

It's a really interesting article. I'm sure each and every dog owner sees this look at one point or another. You know, even after this study was concluded there are still people who doubt the outcome (note that at the bottom of this article there's a quote regarding this). Personally, I think there were too many variables in this study to form a conclusive answer. There were 14 dogs but they were different sexes, breeds and owners. Why wouldn't you limit your variables in initial studies?

Regardless, it is a good read. Take some time to check it out. What do you think? Based on your experience with your own dogs, do you agree with the outcome of this study?


GoLightly said...


Dogs react to the energy their owners project, and are very good at correlating cause and effect.

They remember everything we do/have done.
A badly trained dog, like my husband's old shepherd, learned very quickly that he'd be in trouble for getting into the garbage. Husband and my predecessor would punish him soundly.
But what he Actually learned, was that when garbage was all over the floor, he was in trouble.

He'd already rewarded himself with his garbage behaviour (yum, yum).
His owners would be mad at him, after the fact.
So he learned "garbage on floor, run out the door".
NOT "I've been in the garbage, I'm in trouble".
NEVER a good training method.

Whipple said...

I agree with GoLightly. When I was young, elementry age, we knew a few dogs "trained" this way. I'm slightly saddened now looking back on it.

Viatecio said...

I have to wonder, for those who have dogs who exhibit the "guilty" face even if they've done nothing wrong, have they been scolded enough (like how GoLightly described it) to have more likely than not, they're going to get scolded anyway when their owner comes in, so they better just be ready for it?

Kind of like the dog who upends the garbage all the time and runs out the door...but the one day he doesn't do it, he's so accustomed to his owner coming in and punishing him that he just runs out the door anyway.

There's no reason for my dog to be guilty, even if he's done something wrong in my eyes; I'm really the guilty one for not thinking ahead and getting trouble (whether it's the garbage, the couch, my shoes, etc) out of reach or simply even putting him in the crate to begin with!

OldMorgans said...

I think that guilt is purely a human emotion. Dogs may have thoughts along the line of what GoLightly said. Or they may expect that certain behavior brings certain energy from the humans (but the behavior is so much fun that they do it anyways). They can also learn that a certain "guilty" look causes the humans to not give out negative energy to the dog.
Animals are very very smart at knowing what emotions the human is having and then reacting to that.

Splash said...

I used to agree with the other commenters. But now, I'm not so sure. I think that as humans, we tend to think of ourselves as more evolved, intelligent, and emotional than other species. As humans, we tend to be splitters: I have yellow hair, you have brown hair, therefore you are different and probably less than me.

I guess I am now, in my old age, coming to believe that there is less separating ourselves from others than we think.

If dogs can feel love, can they not feel other things as well? I don't know for sure, but I think that they can and do.

Gosh, this is about my fifth dissenting comment on your blog in a row. Sorry about that.

GoLightly said...

Splash, no-one attributes more human emotions to their dogs than I do. They talk, as clearly as we do. I often voice what they are saying, to our mutual delight.
I think sometimes we just don't understand what they are saying..

I think anthropomorphism is actually much more "real" and relevant than we realize.

Our old shepherd would often bolt for the door when his people came home, even if he'd done nothing wrong. He just figured he was in trouble.

All animals do feel jealousy, a sense of fairness, and of course empathy. Love, of course. Fear, shame, yes. Emotions that scientists just can't bear to ascribe to "mere" animals.

I Hope Guilt is one of our more Highly "developed" emotions. I hope they don't feel it.
Guilt sucks.

Maybe abashed is a more appropriate term?

I think I agree with you more than you realize, Splash.

If I was to come home, and give my puppy a dirty look, she would be abashed, for no reason.
Of course, I NEVER do:)

Wiggling happy bums & smiling faces are my favourite time of the day.
Mom's HOME!!! Oh, happy days!!
I never tire of it.

Probably why I take them to work with me so much. I can't bear not having their spirits close to me.

Flip, older dog, would of course prefer I never go to work again:)

scritches behind the ears, to all!
Belly rub, if you have time.