Guilty Dog Face or Just a Good Faker?

What me guilty? Look at this cute little face.We’ve seen the dog shaming memes where pets are photographed with signs explaining what they did wrong. And boy do they look guilty! They just tore up a box of tissues, grabbed some chicken bones out of the garbage bin, or left a stinky mess in the hallway. Our lovable yet trying fur children act just like human kids when we’ve caught them drawing with crayons on the wall.

But is that apologetic shame they are expressing or are we anthropomorphizing their behaviors?

I discussed Dog Shaming in a post last year but wanted to revisit the topic since there have been a spate of articles in the news recently. I think Penny has the best guilty face as she loves to chew up all the toys. But I swear my chihuahuas (and I have a few) don’t feel any guilt. They ignore me if I scold them – especially Carl, the oldest one.

Dr. Ljerka Ostojic, a comparative psychologist at Cambridge University in England, authored a story published in the journal Behavioural Processes. In it researchers found no support for the idea that dogs display the “guilty look” when they’re not actually being scolded.

According to veterinary scientist Dr Susan Hazel, with the University of Adelaide, “There have been a number of studies, and it’s pretty clear that dogs don’t feel or display guilt.” She believes that what we are seeing when they “look guilty” is actually their reaction to our behavior and appearance – from the tone of voice, body gestures or even the bodily smells we give off as our tempers flare. Yes, dogs might be able to smell anger.

They are cowering because they know we are angry. It’s a defensive mechanism and a learned behavior. As a domesticated animal, dogs have adapted to living with humans over the past several thousand years. And as any owner can attest, our pets know where their next meal ticket is coming from. They know the behaviors that will get us up in the morning for a walk, or to give them a taste of what’s on the plate in front of us. From past experience, they know what actions work best to get what they want.

What emotions can dogs really feel? According to the Daily Mail, some experts, like Elaine Henley, an animal behaviourist and lecturer in Scotland, or neuroscientist Professor Jaak Panksepp, believe that animals do not experience the “secondary” or “moral” emotions – those complicated thoughts dealing with such issues as right and wrong or social status like guilt, shame, embarrassment, jealousy, hate and contempt as well as pride and loyalty. They do experience “primary” emotions that are hard-wired into their brains such as fear, anger, lust, maternal care, social loneliness, playfulness and happiness.

So what’s your take? Send me your thoughts to so I can discuss in a future blog post. And in case you need a good laugh, check out,, and Thank you for reading!

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