The Guilty Look?

The ‘Guilty’ look…

I hear a lot of talk about the ‘guilty’ look in dogs. They were left unsupervised in the house while the family was gone, and they chewed up something or eliminated in the house. What if I said canines are not mentally capable of feeling that emotion? Don’t be a victim to anthropomorphism (putting human emotions on animal). The look we see as ‘guilt’ is actually a combination of submissive gestures and pacifying, or calming signals meant to appease your anger or frustration. If you are already worried your dog did something, or if you walk in and see a mess, you are already emitting emotional feelings towards the dog, and they pick up on that. They don’t associate the action of what they did, to your feelings. They just try to submit, so the reprimand will cease. In you continue scolding the dog, he may try to send more calming signals such as lip licking, rolling over, or the ultimate submissive gesture – urination.

A study was done at Barnard College in New York. Dr. Alexandra Horowitz PhD tested 14 dogs and their owners for the owners interpretation of the dogs so-called “guilty look”. The dogs were not to touch the forbidden treats but the owners were asked to leave the room while some dogs were given the forbidden treat. When the owners returned they were told whether or not their dogs had eaten the forbidden treat, some owners were given misinformation and told that their dog had eaten the treat even when it had not. What Dr. Horowitz found was that the “guilty look” had little to do with whether the dog ate the treat. The “guilty look” was most prominent when owners were upset at their dogs for eating the treat, whether or not they had actually done it.

Now, as for the eliminating in the house while you are gone bit. Dogs do NOT eliminate in the house because of anger, spite, jealousy, boredom or mischief. With the exceptions of territorial urine marking, illness, or (rarely) separation distress syndrome. Dogs go to the bathroom in the house for one reason: they have never been properly housetrained by the owner. For senior dogs with medical problems, they need to be let out every few hours to alleviate the pressure on their bladder. They just can’t hold it nearly as long. Food and water should also be monitored.  Now,  many people ask about crating during the day. This is a great training tool, and really helps with behavioral problems. if the dog doesn’t have the opportunity to self-reward, it will eventually stop wanting to do that behavior. It’s not fun if they don’t get anything out of it.  Roaming the house needs to be earned, and if the dog is having accidents in the house, that respect has not been achieved. Older dogs cannot achieve this level of respect, so crating is a safe option or putting the dog in a bathroom or laundry room where if there is an accident, it is at least contained.

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