That ‘Guilty’ Look That Your Dog Is Giving You Isn’t Actually Guilt They’re Scared

Every dog owner knows the telltale looking of a puppy who did something it wasn’t supposed to do.

Maybe she pooped on the storey. Perhaps she chewed through your favorite couch cushion, or the carpet on the stairs.

You know she did something she shouldn’t have done and, apparently, she does too. Since you’re a human being, you see that appear and ascribe a common human emotion to it: guilt.

All the logic lines up: Your bird-dog was left alone, did something they weren’t supposed to do( that they know better than to do ), and when they’re called on it, their face says everything there is. Perhaps you’re already saying “No! Bad dog! Bad dog! ” or some fluctuation thereof.

The truth is, despite your logical summation, the dog isn’t thought remorse. Instead, they’re expressing a much more common, less complex feeling: fear.


Don’t just take my word for it: That affirmation is based on a 2009 survey conducted by puppy cognition scientist Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, writer of 2009’s “Inside of a Puppy: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know” and 2016’s “Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell.”

Dr. Horowitz’s 2009 learn, “Disambiguating the ‘guilty look’: salient prompts to a familiar puppy behavior, ” specifically focuses on the concept of how humen interpret dog feelings through the scope of human feeling. More simply: Humen tend to misattribute dog feelings based on human feelings. The “guilty” look is a prime example of this.

“I look at a puppy indicating the guilty appear and it feels guilty to me. It does! We’re kind of wired to see it this style, so it’s nobody’s faulting, ” Dr. Horowitz told me in a recent interview.

The look is distinct: The dog cowers, demonstrating the whites of its eyes while appearing up at you. Maybe it pins its ears back to its chief, yawns, or licks the air. These are all characteristic signs of anxiety in a puppy signs that us humen tend to misattribute as guilt.


Horowitz’s 2009 analyze is a clear demo of how humen tend to anthropomorphize their dogs. Here’s how such studies ran, and what it exposed, based on the abstract 😛 TAGEND

“Trials differed the opportunity for puppies to disobey an owner’s command to not feed a desirable treat while the owner was out of the room, and varied the owners’ knowledge of what their bird-dogs did in their absence.”

“The results revealed no change in behaviors associated with the guilty seem. By contrast, more such behaviours were considered to be in trials when proprietors berated their dogs. The effect of rebuke was more pronounced when the dogs were obedient , not disobedient.”

“These results indicate that a better description of the so-called guilty seem is that it is a response to owner cues, rather than that it shows an appreciation of a misdeed.”

The website “Dog Shaming” is dedicated to ascribing remorse to our canine cohorts.

Flickr/ Maja Dumat

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