A recent study claims to prove that dogs don’t feel guilt. I can only surmise that these researchers have never had a dog!
During the study, owners were asked to leave the room after ordering their dogs not to eat a tasty treat. While the owner was away, researchers gave some of the dogs the forbidden treat before asking the owners back into the room. In some trials, the owners were told that their dog had eaten the forbidden treat; in others, they were told their dog had behaved properly and left the treat alone. What the owners were told, however, often did not correlate with reality.
Whether the dogs’ demeanor included elements of the “guilty look” had little to do with whether the dogs had actually eaten the treat or not. Dogs looked most “guilty” if they were admonished by their owners for eating the treat. In fact, dogs that had been obedient and had not eaten the treat, but were scolded by their (misinformed) owners, looked more “guilty” than those who had, in fact, eaten the treat.
Thus, the study concludes, the dog’s guilty look is a response to the owner’s behavior, and not necessarily indicative of any appreciation of its own misdeeds. Well, okay. But how can they say that the dogs don’t feel guilt??? So maybe a dog doesn’t think it’s bad to eat a tempting piece of food (and why oh why should a dog think it’s bad to eat something that it needs to survive, anyway?)–but the dogs clearly showed guilty looks–slinking away, ducking the head and dropping the tail–when they were reprimanded.
Our canine companions are so often so in tune with us, that they respond to our clues. We might not expect them to feel bad about eating a piece of steak on the counter, that’s their natural instinct, but once we’ve let them know that we are not happy with it, they clearly show signs of guilt. In my book, dogs feel guilt–end of story. What about your dogs? Do you agree with the study that dogs don’t feel guilt?
By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Care2