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Scientists Find Dogs Don’t Feel Guilt? Ha!

Scientists Find Dogs Don’t Feel Guilt? Ha!

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?

Read more: Behavior & Communication, Dogs, Pets, , , ,

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Care2

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

400 comments

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1:54AM PDT on Apr 5, 2013

Thanks.

4:44PM PDT on Apr 2, 2013

OMG, that is sooooooooooo not true.

3:50PM PDT on Apr 2, 2013

Sometimes Scientists get things so wrong! :)

1:41AM PDT on Apr 2, 2013

LOL What a waste of money...

9:55PM PDT on Apr 1, 2013

Oh yes they do feel guilt,all I have to do is give my dog " the look "

12:30PM PDT on Mar 23, 2013

Anyone with a dog in their family knows that dogs do feel guilt.

1:34AM PST on Mar 7, 2013

These people have definitely never had a dog companion.

5:24AM PST on Nov 20, 2012

Thanks for sharing

9:49AM PDT on Sep 14, 2012

whatever

2:12AM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

what a stupid study. First, I don't think they know the difference between a "guilty" look and an "ashamed" or "upset" look - you have to remember, even our own species can be difficult to read and interpret when it comes to facial expressions. Second if the dog was in trouble then without understanding WHAT they were being told off for and they didn't usually get in trouble except for being told off when they KNOW they did something wrong, then of course they might look "guilty". Thirdly - the ethics of this test. Why would they want to know whether or not a dog feels guilt? And why would they manipulate owners to admonish a dog for no reason? And why were they doing this test in the first place?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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