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You Can't Read a Dog By Its Guilty Face

Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 11:00 AM

Dog looking guilty (Keith McDuffee/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

In our Animal Minds show, we talk to the author of a clever study that calls into question what's really going on in a dog's head when it looks "guilty." Hint: even totally innocent pets make dejected, hangdog faces -- meaning those expressions may not have anything to do with owning up to bad behavior.

Dog owners, we'd love to hear your reactions. (If you haven't listened to Animal Minds yet, do it now!)

We're especially curious if, after listening, you still think your dog looks remorseful when it does something wrong. Send us a photo!


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Comments [6]

jennifer from jefferson, tx

I came home tonight from class to find the book I'm reading partly shredded and my bedroom remote badly chewed.
When I asked Khloe, "Did you do this?", she immediately tucks her head and tail and goes to her kennel.
I believe she is aware that her behavior is not "good" because she was never taught that the question of did you do this to be good, bad or indifferent.

Jul. 15 2014 10:35 PM
Ryan from Manhattan, NY

@Jane from Boulder CO:

I can explain that simply.. you have scolded your dogs for similar behavior in the past and he has a memory. What is left to explain now is, why does your dog repeat bad behavior more than once? I think that answer relates to impulsiveness and/or lack of foresight. Maybe they only remember the consequences after the fact!

We can test the above.. an animal who has never been scolded for the behavior in the past, will never think twice about having done it, let alone fear another scolding after the fact. To me, that seems like the most likely and reasonable outcome to this experiment.

Aug. 24 2013 02:09 PM

Plenty of people would make a "hangdog" face if someone they loved scolded them, even if innocent. Because you trust you've let them down somehow, even if you're not yet sure how. Dogs have extreme emotional intelligence - it's funny how people second guess their own emotional experiences and try to discredit them for fear of - what? What is so frightening about realizing that the world around us is wildly alive and responsive on every level? On OUR level and in some cases, lol, far beyond.

Jun. 17 2013 02:48 AM
Jane from Boulder, CO

I love your show, and am glad to support it. Thank you! I have to say I disagree with the guilty-dog-face-expression experiment results. With all due respect for science and research, it's obvious to me that a dog would act submissive as its person is scolding it. What's missing from this experiment is why a dog expresses the same submissive behavior when it knows it's done something naughty, and its person does not yet. Every so often, I come home to my three dogs, and one of them will act "guilty" in the way you describe in the show. Inevitably, when this obvious display of "oh man, I really messed up this time!" occurs, I enter my house to find garbage on the floor, something torn up, or a warm spot on the couch. How to explain this? Cat's couldn't care less. Dogs somehow seem to.

Thank you for endless hours of fascination, goosebumps, and enjoyment.

Jun. 16 2013 04:12 PM
james from California

Animals were never cast out of Garden of Eden. There is no need to baptize them.

Jun. 15 2013 04:50 PM
Liz Holland from Providence, RI

What is the song at the end of this story? I love it!

Jun. 14 2013 08:46 PM

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