Debunking the “Guilty” Look Dogs Give

Have you heard of “Dog Shaming” or watched a viral video of a dog looking guilty for a mess they made? That “guilty” look is actually an appeasement gesture (or gestures) a dog makes when they are feeling stressed, uncomfortable, or fearful. These signals include yawning, licking their lips, pinned back ears, body scratching, sniffing the ground, averting eye contact, submissive grinning (often confused for “smiling”) and more.

Current research, including an open-access study concluded that a dog’s “guilty look” doesn’t necessarily correspond with the knowledge of a misdeed. Additionally, when we scold or punish our dog for a behavior we find undesirable, we are actually making them more fearful of the situation. For example, if you come home to a bag of trash scattered all over the floor, and punish the dog, in the future, the dog will start to anticipate the situation of you arriving home = the possibility of being punished, creating that “guilty” look.

So, remember those “guilty” looks from your dog are actually him communicating he’s afraid.  It does NOT mean he understands that he did something wrong. Realizing this is essential for you to put an effective plan in place for changing your dog’s behavior. The proven formula for eliminating unwanted behaviors encompasses changing the environment to prevent your dog from practicing the bad behavior. At the same time, you should find ways to reinforce the behavior you do want. Taking these steps can result in lasting behavior change. Our trainers are here to help you build a detailed plan for improving your dog’s behavior!