Dogs do not feel guilty, regardless of their facial expressions and body language after they have misbehaved, according to veterinary scientist Susan Hazel. The latter explains that their apparent shame is reflective of our relationships with our pets instead of their ability to guilt.
Guilt is a complicated emotion seemingly out of the reach of dogs. Simply put, they cannot and do not feel guilty.
“There’s been a number of studies done and it’s pretty clear that dogs don’t feel or display guilt,” said Hazel in a statement. “It’s not the way their brains work.”
Why do dogs apparently display guilt, then? Hazel explains that having lived among men for thousands of years has caused dogs to become adapted to showing guilt as and when required. They have become conditioned to become submissive to their masters when the latter express anger or disapproval.
“Dogs will show appeasement-like behaviour that some owners interpret as guilt,” Hazel said. “They will also react to the person’s body language, so dogs are absolute geniuses at picking up what we think before even we know it.”
A 2009 study bears testimony to the explanations of Hazel. The author,
Alexandra Horowitz, noted the interactions between owners of dogs and the animals after the latter were left alone in a room with treats. She made an exposé of her findings in The Washington Post as follows:-
“The problem is, the ‘guilty look’ is not what it seems. A dog may plaster his ears against his head, turn away, wag his tail low between his legs or just take off when accused of a misdeed. But in research I did where owners confronted dogs both guilty and innocent of eating a forbidden treat, I found one clear result: The ‘look’ happened most when dogs saw scolding, questioning or angry owners, whether the dog was guilty or not.” … The ‘guilty look’ would be better called the ‘submissive look’, as in, ‘Don’t punish me for whatever it is you think I did.’”