‘Sit’, ‘Stay’, ‘Remorse’ – It’s All Part Of The Lesson

Imagine – you come home to a chewed up newspaper, curtains torn off the rails, mess everywhere. ‘Fido, how could you!’ you shout. Does Fido understand how you feel?

An interesting experiment attempts to establish weather dogs can feel guilt when doing something undesirable by their owner:

‘A group of scientists working in Budapest have created an experiment designed to answer two questions:

First, would dogs who had misbehaved in their owners’ absences behave differently when greeting their owners than dogs who had not misbehaved? Second, would owners be able to determine, upon entering a room and relying solely on dog greeting behavior, whether or not their dogs had actually transgressed?

As to the first question, a group of dogs who had learned that certain activities were “wrong” displayed more guilt-related behaviors when their guardians came back “home” and scolded them than when they simply greeted them.

When the study probed a little deeper, though, the results were more confusing. For example:

    Each dog had three opportunities to greet their owners. Once before the rule had been established, a second time after the rule had been established and dogs had an opportunity to violate the rule, and a third time, after the rule had been established, but without an opportunity to violate the rule.

    While all dogs were more likely to act guilty during the second greeting while being scolded, only the dogs who had actually transgressed were more likely to continue acting guilty during the third greeting.’

So to sum it up – dogs don’t feel guilty, they just act out the guilty behavior we teach them.

It may come as a surprise to some but dogs don’t share out need for a clean house, out etiquette and our table manners. What they are very good at is imitation and learning. Learning what we want and expect of them. This is how dogs succeeded at living with us humans in the first place.

So next time you are feeling down, just teach Fido the facial expression which stands for ‘I believe in you’.

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About Dr Vadim Chelom

Dr Vadim Chelom is a Registered Veterinarian, a writer and an educator

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