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Can dogs feel guilty?

Updated: May 4, 2020

We have all seen those YouTube videos of the owner coming home to a shredded sofa or knocked over dustbin. The owner then goes on to video their dog "looking sorry and guilty"

However can dogs really feel guilty?

Dogs don't feel guilt the same way as we do. They don't pair the 'bad' behaviour that they did 10 minutes ago with something they now should feel guilty for.

The guilty behaviour we all think our dogs are expressing is actually anxiety. By shouting at our dog and getting angry with them this behaviour only increases our dogs stress levels. When dogs are stressed they use serval different calming methods to help them relax.

Some calming behaviours are:

  • Urinating

  • Chewing

  • Digging

With these calming methods in mind picture this common scenario. Owner comes home to find that the dog has chewed up their favourite shoes. The owner gets angry at the dog thinking that the dog chewed the shoes deliberately. The dog then starts to show 'guilty' looks and the owner is now convinced that their dog did it deliberately. However in reality the dog was feeling stressed about being home alone or the dog is feeling stressed because each time his owner comes home from work he gets shouted at and punished. The only choice the dog has is to try and calm himself down by chewing!! He finds the most accessible thing in the house to chew to help his anxiety. Unfortunately for the dog he is now going to be punished as soon as the owner gets home for chewing. The dog will never be able to connect the dots and the owner will always think their poor dog is doing it on purpose.

As dog owners what can we do?

Firstly remember that dogs don't feel guilt like we do. Help your dog by contacting a good positive dog trainer through IMDT ‘find a dog trainer’ and spread the word to let other dog owners know that all these 'guilty dog' videos are not what they seem, they are very stressed dogs.

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