The Guilt Myth

For many years I believed that my dog(s) knew when he/she had done something wrong, even if “the wrong doing” occurred hours prior to me noticing it, or coming home to find it (the wrong doing).   I thought this because he/she gave me, what I interpreted as a guilty look.  Can dogs really process complex emotions, such as guilt?  Some experts say no and others say perhaps, but the constant is that the dog is NOT looking guilty because of some misdeed, they are responding to our anger or frustration.  We will often raise our voice, demanding to know why they did this misdeed, when they know we don’t want them to do that.  This is a myth and we are doing our dog’s an injustice, by punishing them for something they did, perhaps hours ago, they do not know what they are being scolded for, just that you are angry, with them.  What they are actually responding to, is our body language, which is consistent with our feelings of anger.  In their attempt to surrender, we often misinterpret this as guilt, when in fact, they are trying to let us know, that they are backing down.  

Dogs communicate primarily using body language, it’s important for us to understand what they are trying to tell us.  Correct interpretation, of these cues, can be the making or breaking of our understanding of our dog’s and our lives together.   It is best for us to let them know what we are asking from them, by rewarding their correct behaviours’, using positive reinforcement – rewards-based training.

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