Can dogs express guilt when doing something wrong?
As you know that your dog cannot speak to you to express his feelings
or what is going on in his mind, all he can do is to give gestures with his face and yet those gestures are undefined and difficult to interpret. For example if your dog has floor of your home lit up with the poop then you will notice it from his face that something is changed, and that change is not because he is feeling guilty for what he has done instead it is the fear of being scold or maybe punished for doing something which he was not supposed or taught not to do.
We would say that it is just you who comprehend your dog’s expression of face as guilt
because that is the thing which normally humans do when they have done something wrong but it is not the same with dogs. It is easy to understand that you took your eyes off from your dog and he did something which he was not supposed to do and when they come in front of you, you can see the looks at their faces because they assume that you would be yelling at them if you knew what they have done. It might be in your head that your dog is feeling guilty because you can see the looks at your dog’s face but that is miles away from the actual truth because what they are showing by their look is not the guilt, it is fear.
We can guess that you are think it is just our claim that it is not guilt but fear then you are wrong
because what we are telling you is based on a study carried on in 2009 by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, who is dog cognition scientist and is the writer of “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know” and another book named as “Being a Dog: Following the Dog into a World of Smell” published in 2009 and 2016 respectively.
Take a look at Dr. Horowitz’s study which was conducted in 2009, the “Disambiguating the ‘guilty look’: salient prompts to a familiar dog behavior” then you will come to know that how humans perceive emotions of dogs by wearing the lens of emotions of the humans.
In simple words he meant to say that humans think that dog’s emotions are judged on the basis of human’s emotions and the “guilty look” is best example to elaborate if further. Even Dr. Horowitz takes it as a expression of guilt and he does not blame anyone about this because as humans we are bound to think that way.
We as humans may misattribute the looks that dog gives such as cowering, looking at you with his white eyes, pinning his ear back or licking the air, as these are thought to be the signs of guilt but in the case of dogs it is showing their fear.
By taking a look at the abstract of the study carried out by Dr. Horowitz’s in 2009 then we will find out about how humans associate emotions of dogs with humans, as mentioned by the Dr. Horowitz “The results revealed no difference in behaviors associated with the guilty look.
By contrast, more such behaviors were seen in trials when owners scolded their dogs. The effect of scolding was more pronounced when the dogs were obedient, not disobedient.”
To put this study in a nutshell we can say that, the guilty look that dog gives is basically because of fear of getting yelled at not the actual guilt which is defined as appreciation of a misdeed.