Do Dogs Feel Guilt or Shame Behaviour

Discussion in 'General Dog Chat' started by Toedtoes, Jun 3, 2021.

  1. Toedtoes

    Toedtoes Member

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    Do Dogs Feel Guilt or Shame

    I keep hearing and reading that we humans are mistakenly reading guilt in our dogs and that dogs do not feel guilt or shame.

    The other day, I was reading a blog about dogs getting jealous.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/...-know-when-theyve-been-dissed-and-dont-it-bit

    Towards the end of this article, the author brings up the idea of guilt or shame in dogs. He referred to a prior blog of his that stated:

    Hare and Woods also consider research conducted by Barnard College's Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog and Psychology Today writer, on doggy guilt (pp. 183ff). They write that Horowitz "conducted an experiment to see whether dogs can feel guilty" but they misinterpreted just what Horowitz was actually trying to do. Her research did indeed show that people were not all that good at reading guilt in their dog but her data do not show that dogs cannot feel guilt. This is sort of a minor quibble in such a wide-ranging and comprehensive book, but I frequently hear people say that Horowitz's project showed dogs cannot feel guilt and this is not so (please see Dr. Horowitz's comment about this error).

    At the end of this blog, he includes Dr Horotwitz's response:

    "Spot on, on 'guilt.' Thanks so much for alerting me to and correcting the ubiquitous error about my study, some years back, which found that dogs showed more 'guilty look' when a person scolded or was about to scold them, not when the dog actually disobeyed the person's request not to eat a treat. Clearly what the results indicated was that the 'guilty look' did not most often arise when a dog was actually 'guilty.'

    "My study was decidedly NOT about whether dogs 'feel guilt' or not. (Indeed, I'd love to know...but this behavior didn't turn out to indicate yay or nay.) I would feel dreadful if people then thought the case was closed on dogs (not) feeling guilt, which is definitely not the case. Many secondary sources got this right, but it must require reading the study to appreciate exactly what I did."

    I thought this was interesting. I have always believed that animals are capable of the full range of emotions - just that they may not be expressed in the way that we humans express them, so I have always cringed when I hear "dogs don't feel guilty".

    Since there have been studies done to show dogs feel jealousy and hold grudges, etc, doesn't it just make sense that dogs would also feel shame or guilt? Maybe not for taking a cookie - but how many kids would feel guilty about that either - but for other things that we don't consider. When one dog goes over and licks the other's face after having a "spat", might that not mean "I'm sorry". And wouldn't being sorry suggest some sort of guilt over what the dog had done?

    Maybe something to think about.
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  3. CaroleC

    CaroleC Member

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    I think dogs can know that they have done wrong, and give that away in their body language, but I'm not sure that guilt is the same emotion that a human would feel.
    Can the dog distinguish between damage that he deliberately carries out, - such as damage to a Venetian blind - and damage that has occurred accidentally? I think that the look that humans interpret as guilt would be present in both cases - more of a, 'she's not going to like this', expression.
    I don't think dogs feel shame at all - how would they dare to face the world in some of the costumes that their humans consider, 'sweet'. Poor little blighters.
  4. Toedtoes

    Toedtoes Member

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    I think of it this way:

    If your spouse does something "wrong" and brings you flowers, does that mean they feel guilty? Or are they just acting in a manner that will ease over the tensions?

    Does someone saying "I feel guilty about that" make it true? Or do people lie about guilt to appease others?

    For me, guilt is a private emotion. I know guilt exists because I have felt it. But if I had never felt it for myself, I would be hard pressed to say others feel it.

    So I don't think guilt doesn't exist in dogs. I think we try to put human reasoning into WHEN we think a dog should feel guilty.

    Why would a dog feel guilty for chewing up blinds? The dog was simply reacting to boredom, frustration, etc. WE expect the dog to feel guilt about that because WE perceive it as "wrongdoing" but the dog likely sees it as just being a dog.

    As for shame, I don't discount it. Again, I think that dogs have a different perspective on what is worthy of the emotion. What we may perceive as something to be shameful about (eg, licking our private parts in public), the dog has no such issue with.

    As for the outfits, I think that falls under humiliating. And I do suspect many dogs experience humiliation over what we humans subject them to.

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