As dogs, we try to communicate as best as we can with our owners. You may think we are just barking as loud as possible, but actually we are trying to tell you something.
As there is a bit of a language barrier between us, we try to communicate in other ways. We love wagging our tails, or wiggling our butts to show you how happy we are, or we give kisses to show you how much we care!
We show you how we feel using our body language, seeing as you do not speak bark. However, the same goes for when we are trying to understand you.
We notice when you change your tone of voice, or if you are super happy to see us, and we notice that your voice changes when we chew up your shoes, or pee on the carpet.
Sometimes, it’s almost as if you do not like it when we do that.
Likewise, if we hear loud voices, and shouting tones, then we tend to feel a little nervous, and start to worry whether we have done something wrong to upset you. This can make you wonder if dogs can feel guilt.
Luckily, I am an expert in this topic, being a dog myself, and I can tell you exactly how we feel, and how we show our emotions!
Do dogs feel guilt?
As dogs, we cannot use our voices to speak with you. We bark bark bark, but sometimes it feels like you still do not know what we are talking about. So, instead, we have to show you how we are feeling.
We do this by running around, zooming in our backyards, bringing you toys and gifts when we want to play with you, and wagging our tails when we see you come home!
Sometimes, depending on if we have done something bad, you may yell at us, or scold us, and then we look really really guilty, and upset. When we are showing signs of guilt, we are expressing ourselves by pinning our ears back, softening our heads, or even looking away and not maintaining eye contact.
Our faces can be extremely expressive, and we can pull really guilty looks, which is what helps us to show our emotions. However, most veterinarians tell us that this is just anthropomorphism– which is when people attribute human characteristics towards an animal.
Whilst we are able to demonstrate guilty canine looks, for the most part, we are usually just reacting to how you speak to us, and what your language and tone suggests.
For example, myself or my canine friends can start to show signs that we may look guilty or are feeling anxious. These are normally:
- Tail tucked in
- Whites of the eyes are visible
- Cowering, or hunched over posture
- May rush to hide
- Licking lips, or paws incessantly
- Ears go back
- Avoid eye contact
- Yawning frequently
All of the above are ways that we try to express that we are feeling anxious, nervous or stressed, but you may understand them as guilt.
Guilt is a very complex concept, and one that may be too much for my brain to handle, but I do always want to please my owners, so I will submit to them when they are angry or upset at something, so that they will pet me and love me again.
For instance, if you start to talk in a happy tone, and say nice things to me, then I will most likely wiggle my butt, wag my tail, or even flip over for a belly rub.
If your tone, facial expression and body language changes, and you become angry or upset with me, then I will begin to cower, or show signs of fear, anxiety or nervousness.
This does not mean that I understand what I have done, or I am guilty. I just look guilty, because of the way you are reacting to me. I promise that if you rub my butt and tell me I’m a good dog, I’ll be happy again!
Do dogs feel regret?
In a similar way to guilt, us dogs cannot comprehend regret, or understand whether we have done something, and it was bad, or that we should feel guilty about it.
Although we are really intelligent animals, and can be trained to guide the blind, or do lots of cool tricks, we do not have complex feelings like regret or remorse.
Most dogs have the emotional experience of a small human, like a 2 and a half year old child, which means that we do feel some emotions, but others are too much for us!
Most of the time, we just like to be happy, and other emotions do not happen for us as much.
Do dogs know if they did something wrong?
I would not know by myself that I did something wrong, as I cannot understand the morality behind what is right and what is wrong.
I just prefer to please my humans, and make them happy. If I do something like bark at the mailman, I like to do that, but my human does not seem to enjoy it as much as me.
My human then tells me no, in a stern tone, and I take that to mean that I should stop!
As dogs, it is in our nature to keep the pack happy at all times, and I do this by responding to my owner’s reactions to things. I do not know why they dislike it when I roll in the mud, because it is very very fun, but they always seem to make loud noises when I do, so I try not to, to keep the peace.
Can dogs sense when something is wrong with their owner?
Some dogs can sense certain things before their humans because our noses and ears are much better than human ones.
We can hear intruders and noises from much further away, and we will try to inform you immediately, to protect the pack! My sniffer is also really good at finding things, and I can help show you where those things are if you train me to, this is why we make such good service animals!
In addition, we may pick up on certain emotional cues or signs of distress in our humans, and react accordingly. We notice when a human is angry, or if their body language changes, and we will try to make sure that everything is okay.
Sometimes, I make sure that my human is as happy as I am, and I will lick them lots, and show them how fast my butt wags.
To sum up, can dogs feel guilt, the answer is not really! Although we try to please you as much as we can, sometimes we like to chew up things, and humans do not like that!
We may look guilty, when you are telling us off, but most of the time, we are just reacting to the noises that you make, and your body language.