What's behind my puppy's "Guilty Look"?

Introduction

I don’t think this issue has been put out there enough when I am still having clients assuring me that “Their dogs, KNOW they did ''wrong” . When I ask them for further details this is what they explain to me: “Well, you know, my puppy just gives me the GUILTY LOOK”. Mmm.. you mean like this?


or is it more like… this?

You know what?

True reason

Exactly! Your puppy hasn’t got a clue why you look that mad! So, what does she/he resort to? Appeasement or the also called calm signals! These are used by dogs with the intention to say “I come in peace!” (kind of). Our dogs are extremely good at reading our body language, when you come home to find that your puppy has ravaged the bin spreading its content all over the house you may not look as happy to see her/him as you normally do.

Your body language differs from the normally cheerful one, and so your puppy offers facial expressions and body language to let you know that she/he feels a bit confused and threatened. Your puppy is trying to calm you down and avoid further conflict.

No, your puppy is not making a connection between the rubbish on the floor which she scattered 3 hours ago and the angry look on you. She is not admitting any wrong-doing nor feeling ashamed for it. You need to think of facts from your puppy’s perspective. For her, rubbish can be anywhere, not necessarily only in that fancy-cylinder-with-a-pedal-that-you-can-step-on-so-the-lid-opens type of artefact. Rubbish not being in that artefact is wrong-doing from our human perspective, but it’s very likely not from our furry friends one.

Conclusion

For people out there who still insist on the “guilty looks” of our dogs, until I see well documented and fact based scientific research proving that our dogs are capable of higher-order emotions, I think I’ll stick to the interpretation I just shared with you. So in the meantime please, let’s assume that your puppy is simply reacting to your signs of anger or frustration.


Recommended further reading:

Disambiguating the “guilty look”: salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour by Alexandra Horowitz https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19520245

The Culture Clash by Jean DonaldsonHE CULTURE CLASH BY JEAN DONALDSON

ON TALKING TERMS WITH DOGS BY TURID RUGAAS

DOG LANGUAGE: AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CANINE BEHAVIOUR BY ROGER ABRANTES

THE LANGUAGE OF DOGS BY SARAH KALNAJS

THE OTHER END OF THE LEASH. PATRICIA MCCONNELL

Before and After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, and Well-Behaved Dog. Dr Ian Dunbar

Life skills for puppies: Laying the foundation for a loving, lasting relationship. Helen Zulch