Do Dogs Know When They've Done Something Wrong?

Many people will swear their dogs know when they have done something wrong like chewing a shoe, using the bathroom in the house or stealing food from the counter top. So why do so many scientist and animal behaviorist say a dog's guilty looking behavior is no admission of guilt?

A 2009 study by Alexandra Horowitz, a canine expert and psychologist at Columbia Universities Dog Cognition Lab, concluded that a dogs behavior, in the presence of owners, following an undesirable act, is actually a learned behavior of submission in response to the owner's angry emotions or expression. We humans have mistaken this behavior for guilt when according to this study, several dogs behaved this way when an owner expressed displeasure whether or not the dog had actually done anything wrong.

So why then do some dogs tuck their tales, look or even run away before the owner has even noticed the dirty deed? Since dogs are very smart animals learn to associate a particular event with a particular human response. So although your dog may hide before you noticed the urine on the floor, it is only because he remembers urine on the floor makes you angry. Animal behaviorist say dog's brains are not able to connect the two events to realize they should not urinate in the house because it is wrong.

So what's the solution? Practice positive reinforcement techniques with your dog. That guilty look is submission and fear, which isn't a good thing with dog training. It would be much healthier for you and your pup if you were to practice rewarding desirable behaviors, instead of punishing the bad behaviors.

To learn more about the study, please see this article.

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