Your Dog’s ‘Guilty Look’ Isn’t What You Think It Is – Here’s Why

Have you ever come home to find your favorite shoes chewed up and your dog giving you those big, sad eyes that scream “I’m sorry”? Most dog owners have interpreted this as a sign of guilt, but recent studies suggest there’s more to this “guilty look” than meets the eye.

Researchers Alexandra Horowitz and Ljerka Ostojić, have delved into the world of canine expressions, particularly focusing on what we often see as a display of guilt. Their findings are quite surprising and may change how we understand our furry friends.

First off, Horowitz’s study involved observing dogs’ behavior when they were tempted with a treat they were told not to eat. The twist? Sometimes the owners knew whether their dogs had disobeyed, and sometimes they didn’t. The results were eye-opening: dogs showed the “guilty look” more often when they were scolded, regardless of whether they actually ate the treat or not. This suggests that the look is more about reacting to their owner’s cues rather than feeling guilty.

Horowitz explains, “The so-called guilty look is, in fact, a response to the owner’s behavior, and not necessarily a sign of any appreciation of a misdeed.”

Building on this, Ostojić’s study took a slightly different approach. Here, the focus was on whether dogs’ actions (like eating forbidden food) and the presence of evidence (like leftover food) influenced their “guilty” behavior. Surprisingly, the study found that dogs’ reactions weren’t influenced by their actions or the evidence. Instead, it was all about the owner’s response. Dogs didn’t look more guilty if they had actually done something wrong.

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Ostojić points out, “Our findings do not support the idea that dogs show the ‘guilty look’ based on their own actions or the presence of evidence of a misdeed.”

So, what does this all mean for dog owners? It seems that the “guilty look” we often see in our dogs is not a complex emotional confession but rather a simple reaction to our own behavior. When we scold them, they react in a way that looks guilty to us, but it’s not necessarily because they feel guilty.

This insight into canine behavior is fascinating and serves as a reminder that dogs, despite their deep emotional connections with humans, don’t always experience or express feelings in the same way we do. The next time your dog gives you those puppy eyes, remember, they might just be reacting to you!

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