Smiling Indian street dog

Canines pronounced guilty… but are they?

Have you ever seen your dog with a guilty look on his face?
I’m sure most of you have seen this video that is doing the rounds of social media, emails etc right now… where the Labrador has a “guilty look”. If not, watch this…

There is no doubt, this dog is trying to express himself to the owner. But is it guilt?

Dogs will show what we humans interpret as guilt, even when they have done nothing wrong. A study was conducted where owners left their dogs in a room and were told that their dogs had stolen a forbidden treat. When the owners returned to their dogs, the dogs looked  guilty – whether or not they had stolen the treat. Their behaviour was as a response to the owner, not to the act of stealing a treat. More here.

The dog  in this video is more than likely guilty of eating the treats. The owner will know this from past experience. And he is a Labrador! Labradors love their food! Anyway they can get it!!

Dogs will continue to steal forbidden food as the pay off – the reward of the food –  more than makes up for any “guilty feelings” afterwards. And they are dogs!!

Sometimes this “grinning” look on a dog is also interpreted as a smile. ..

Here is a street dog whom I met in India. She approached me, sat down and “smiled”. Look at how narrow her eyes are. You will see the narrowing of the eyes in the guilty dog video too.

Smiling Indian street dog
Smiling Indian street dog

In behaviour terms, these gestures are appeasement ones. Animals do them to keep us appeased, to calm us, to soothe us. They do it inn direct response to our behaviour.

As a scientist we are always told not to be anthropomorphic, putting human interpretations of feelings onto animals. But I enjoy when people do this. It means that we have empathy and we ascribe similar feeling to our pets.

Dogs are especially good at appeasement looks. After living with us for 20,000 years, they have worked out what makes us tick.

Now cats on the other hand… well has anyone ever seen a guilty look on a cat’s face?!!

Please share with your friends

8 comments

  1. I think we have to distinguish between the way the dog looks and the way he feels. He uses a particular body language and we interpret this as guilt. As I mentioned in my blog – http://petproblemsolved.com.au/blog/2011/03/canines-pronounced-guilty-but-are-they/ – dogs will show this body language even when they have done nothing wrong but they only show it when their human thinks they have done something. It is such a lovely example of how dogs have adapted their body language to live in harmony with us.

Thanks for reading my blog. I look forward to reading your comments, Jo