Dogs Are Simple People

Thanks to thevspotblog for the Photo

And, I certainly don’t mean this in a bad way!  I like simple!!

I know how dogs think, I have been training them for almost 20 years and have worked with a plethora of different types of dogs and personalities.

I also believe that dogs have emotions, sometimes not as complex, but they feel the basics just like we do!

Recently I had an argument/disagreement with a dog owner online.  I posted a photo with a person pointed at a dog and it says “He doesn’t know what he did; He just knows that you are angry” and we got into a slight debate about dogs and feelings of guilt.

And, today I had a dog owner that tried to convince me that her dog pooped or peed in the hall as some kind of retribution for any indiscretion it assumed the owner had shown against it.

But I know that dogs are simple.  They don’t spend their days planning ways to get back at us.  They don’t feel guilt after the fact.  Like it or not dogs live in the moment.

If he pooped or peed in the house after he got in trouble, it is probably because the confrontation made him need to go potty and he was afraid to come and tell you or spend time with you when you’re angry.

Does stress ever make you need to visit the bathroom?  Stress and confusion can cause a dog to make a mistake.

People plan revenge, but revenge and the repercussions and planning of it is not in a dog’s vocabulary or ability.  They are just not sneaky creatures!  We cannot always anthropomorphize everything a dog does.

Dogs learn appeasement skills and the "guilty" look at a very young age.

The same holds true for dogs and guilt.

Dogs do not think that urinating or defecating (anywhere) in the beginning is bad behavior.  It is something that they HAVE to do and is natural for them.  It is also natural for them (most of them) to go as far away from their sleeping and eating quarters as possible this is what makes them easier to potty train.

If they hide from you after they have done so in the house, it is because they have previously gotten in trouble for it.  I have never seen a 5, 6 week or 8 week old puppy show signs of “guilt” after going potty.

Dogs do not come with a rule book, and for the most part they don’t understand us and our rules at all!

They get in trouble for going potty which is a natural behavior.

They get in trouble for stealing food which is fairly natural and a “survival of the fittest” behavior.

They get in trouble for eating out of the trash; where we store all of our great unused food!   For help with that and counter surfing click here.

To Put it Simply Dogs Are Not Small Humans!

They learn through interaction with us, what is wrong and what is acceptable.

Guilt is a very complex feeling and requires remembering and thinking about and focusing on the past.

It is the experience of getting in trouble that gives them that “guilty” or appeasement look.  They avert their eyes, they may crouch down, and some even pull their lips back.

Denver the “guilty dog” was a video that was posted about a year ago.  It even made national news as she squints her eyes and pulls her lips back when asked “who ate the cat treats”.  But this video made many of us dog professionals sad, because we know that dogs don’t truly feel “guilt”.  Even renowned behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell was horrified and saddened by the video to read her response click here.

I also feel sorry for the dogs in the similar video with the 3 poodles in the hall.  I have often thought that I bet the one that shows signs that he is “guilty” is probably not even the dog that committed the transgression.  He is just the dog that wants to appease his owner and make the distress stop!  Not all dogs are as sensitive as others… some dogs don’t care about getting in trouble or making their owner’s mad.

But 74% of owners think that their dogs experience guilt and 60% of dog owners say that their dog’s guilty behaviors lead them to scold their dogs less.

But guilty behaviors or appeasement activities; such as avoiding eye contact and keeping the head down reduce conflict and elicit tolerance from other members of the social group/family.

So the question is:

Denver the "guilty" You tube Dog

Do guilty behaviors follow from transgressions and the dog knowing what he did was wrong; or are these behaviors a result of previous scolding?

Let’s face it; all dogs get in trouble for something.

Just because your dog is showing appeasement gestures doesn’t mean that you beat him.  It just means he knows you are unhappy with him and he cares and wants it to stop.  So do not think that this article has anything to do with blame.  Heck, my dogs know when I am angry about something, and they have never had a beating; some of my dogs care when I am upset and some don’t!

But many people get carried away when they are livid and find the first transgression.


The dog recognizes how VERY angry you are and even though he may not understand why  you are so angry, he realizes that he is the cause so he pulls his lips back, or dips his head in what seems like shame; although at first I am sure it is in appeasement and fear.  The first time they probably get in this much trouble they are probably terrified!  He just wants the yelling and negativity to stop, so he does whatever he has to to stop the behavior.

Think about it from when you were a child and got in trouble.  If you accepted and admitted to what you did (even if you didn’t do it) and said how guilty you felt and sorry you were chances are your parents or teacher would be much easier on you.  But if you insisted you didn’t do it or wanted to fight, the anger would just escalate!

But dogs are very, very easily and quickly conditioned.  They learn more quickly than most other animals how to affect our behavior and how to take cues from us.

Did you know the dog is better at learning our cues than one of our closets relations; the primate?

He acts guilty not because he knows what he did was wrong, but because he can read your angry body language.

Dogs are even better at picking up just small cues or behaviors that we show, when we are happy, sad, or even during training.  Picking up on these slight nuances, means that our dogs are conditioning to our behaviors under certain circumstances; and this makes them sometimes easier and sometimes harder to train when we are not aware of what they are learning from us!

Knowing that a guilty look or appeasement may lessen the endurance of a scolding the “guilty look” may just be a learned or conditioned behavior!

In 2009 an experiment by Alexandra Horowitz found evidence that dogs were more likely to display behavior associated with guilt after being scolded, whether or NOT they had actually been guilty of a perceived violation in the first place.  However (interestingly enough) dogs who had not misbehaved but were scolded displayed more guilt associated behaviors than dogs who had actually misbehaved and been scolded.   And, those behaviors also appeared in situations in which owners did not scold the dogs at all.

To read more about this and other similar studies click here.

As much as we want to feel like dogs know what they have done was wrong; the research shows that dogs are feeding off of our behavior (when we are angry) and past experience or conditioning from when they did get in trouble!

Let’s face it; it is a good thing that dogs are simple “people” that they don’t feel guilty or feel the need for revenge!

By understanding these things we can better train, and live with our dogs and lessen some of the negative conditioning they are receiving that we might not even realize!

And less dogs will end up in shelters because people think they are sneaky manipulative animals!!!

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  1. Becky says:

    I found this very interesting and helpful. I just have a question: why do some dogs care when their master is upset and others do not? My dog seems to be in the more sensitive category. Like you, I have never beaten my dog but he doesn’t like it if I raise my voice at all, even when he’s in the other room and it’s not directed at him. He may not feel guilty but I sure do! Is he just so attached to me that everything I do affects him?


    Minette Reply:

    Some dogs are just more sensitive than others, just like people.

    Some people care if you act mad, other’s could care less, I think it is more innate personality than anything else!

    Be glad to have a sensitive!! It is usually more difficult to have a dog that could care less about you or your feelings! Just be careful about getting angry and punishment!


    julie Reply:

    Whether or not it is “guilt”, a dog does have the capability to learn what is acceptable behavior, and what is not. Or, at least, what his master has shown him about “good” and “bad” behavior. And, they are able to retain that knowledge. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to “learn” that they are expected to behave in the way they have been taught, even when their owner is away from home. For example, not to pee on the floor, not to chew the furniture. So,to me, it’s a matter of semantics, whether they feel guilty, or just know that they have displeased their master.

    However, I do agree that dogs are able to sense things so quickly, to adapt and change their behavior, that we often think they have schemed to outsmart us. For example, my little 6 and 1/2 week old Shih Tzu quickly learned that if he peed in his crate as soon as I put him in it, I would take him back out to clean the crate. So, he thought that peeing was a way to get out of the crate. Of course, it took ME a day or two, to figure this out, because, I hadn’t realized that a 6 week old puppy could be that smart!


    Minette Reply:

    Of course they learn!! That is what is so great about a dog.

    The thing is that they live in the moment, not 2 hours ago when they stole a cookie from the counter!

  2. Syl says:

    Not only dogs can be sensitive. I have a 16 yr old horse that I’ve had since he was 2 yrs old. He is very sensitive and in tune to my feelings. I have never once hit him or caused any undue discomfort. The one time that I yelled at him, several years ago, he got wide eyed and his bottom lip quivered. Just the tone of my voice at that moment scared him. I have not ever yelled at him since…he’s just too sensitive. His desire to please and be around me means that I don’t need to scold, just show him what I want him to do. He is precious and I love him very much!!!


  3. Caorle Carl says:

    Well, I came home one day, and Baxter, my nine pound pomeranian/poodle mix, who is very devoted to me and always beside himself with joy when I walk in, took one look at me as I came though the door. I hadn’t even said anything to him. but the expression on his face and his whole body language was like a little kid who had been caught in the cookie jar. He usually jumps to the top of the recliner when I walk in so he is at my level, so I can pet him, but he wasn’t doing that. I took one look at him and said, “OK Baxter. What did you do?” Then I saw the trash all over the kitchen floor. Now that wasn’t even some thing we had “discussed” previously, because the trash can is tall enough that if I don’t leave a chair too close and leave the lid on, he can’t get into it. So I had never even scolded him for that before. I would say he was feeling guilty…he communicated that to me, not the other way around.


  4. Claudia says:

    My little dog is a two year old rescue that I have had since the end of Feb. 2012. I have never spanked her and rarely ever even have to scold her because she is such a good girl but when I approach her she kind of acts and looks guilty but hasn’t done anything wrong. Is she just being submissive to the pack mama or is there another explanation for this behavior? Oh and by the way, don’t tell her she isn’t a little human. LOL


    Linda Reply:

    Claudia, You didn’t mention the breed of your dog, but that probably doesn’t have much to do with the issue anyway. I’m thinking this may have more to do with her previous experiences from her other owner (owners?). What I would suggest: (and please know that I am not a professional dog trainer but have been through many a dog training session with my dogs)
    Bring her a little treat for the next a couple of times you approach her. “Little Jacks” by Bill Jacks are great. (Pet Smart has them) Then, to establish that you really are the pack mama, continue to give her a treat when you approach her, BUT make her work for it. That could be a sit command, lay down, or speak. If you haven’t had the time to teach these commands to your little girl, consider a beginning obedience class. Hope this may help you! I just love dogs! They really are 4 legged people to me! Linda


  5. Betty says:

    We left our cat, 15 years old, in the master bath over the long weekend with plenty of food and water. When we returned he had about 10 piles on the rug in front of my tub. He did not use his clean litter one time. I couldn’t believe it, I know it was because we was mad at us for leaving him alone.

    Just another note: he will not go outside even if you leave the door open right in front of him. He thinks outside means going to the vet.

    Also, our chaweiny definitely feels remorse when we fuss at him, he looks so pitiful and heads for his blanket to get under. He is our baby, our first house dog after 55 years of only outside dogs.

    Thanks for everything,



    Linda Reply:

    Your cat was not retaliating; it was upset at being in the bathroom all alone. When cats are upset, they often don’t use their box.

    If you have punished your dog in the past for doing something that didn’t please you and then, you yell at her or say What did you do’? even if she didn’t do anyhting, she will act like she did…


    Minette Reply:

    Well said! Thank you!


  6. Wilma Upchurch says:

    My dog likes to sleep under my bed. I don’t even want him in my bedroom. He knows that. When I’m in there he never comes past the door, he just sits and watches me. He will be really good for a long time and we get very close and he is very loving. Then he will wait till I go to sleep and sneak in my bedroom and sleep under the bed. I always catch him because he snores and is very restless in his sleep.No matter how sweet I make my voice he will not come out from under my bed until he’s ready. Because he knows he is not suppose to be there. I have given him everything, his own bed (not in my room) I got him when he was 9 yrs old. He was my son’s dog who loved him so much. My son passed away unexpectedly and I took his dog because there was no other option for him. I never wanted a dog in the house and he is a house dog. I have been able to train him in many things and I do it with love. But that one thing I cannot break him from. Any suggestions?


    Jack Reply:

    I have read that dogs like to be with the human in the bedroom…it is better for him and perhaps for you to bond with him – so put his bed in a corner of the bedroom. you have not given him ‘everything’ – he lost your son – his companion. it is clear you don’t really like him and are caring for him out of duty. he just wants to be near you. try to bond with him. he is grieving also. he lost his companion. if you can’t give him the love he needs then perhaps you can find him a better home…one where he will be truly loved.


    jack Reply:

    sounds like the dog is grieving and you are “caring” for him out of duty not love. put a bed in a corner of your bedroom and let him sleep there – he just needs to be near you. you are not doing “everything” for him. Perhaps you should look for someone else to take the dog someone who will really love him. the dog probably feels your lack of love and sense of ‘duty.


    Sarah Reply:

    Just close your bedroom door, and if he scratches at your door and whines to get in then put his bed in a separate room and close him in there so he won’t keep you up. He should eventually settle in.


    sndembin Reply:

    Honestly, there isn’t much of anything. Dogs miss their owners just like children miss their parents. If he was your child’s dog, he most likely makes the connection to your smells and sees you as a connection to the person he loves and misses. And him loving you now too, dogs are social sleepers. If you know him being in your room is inevitably, try putting the dog bed beside yours or near your room.


    Carol Reply:

    Try crate training your dog.That way you can put him to bed anywhere you want. I have 6 dogs and I crate 3 of them at bed time and if I’m going to be gone for awhile. They get a treat when they go in and they love their little homes. At the very beginning you may have to put up with a little whining but it should get better soon. Put his favorite toy in with him and feed him there. He should only associate happy times and things with his crate.


  7. Tom says:

    Interesting stuff! A stray that I took in recently is not destructive but will take items out of the trash or hamper if I am gone more than about a 1/2 hour or so. When I come home and take a recon of the house she will slink around as if she knows I am not happy. If I try to show her she did wrong, she will pee (inadvertently) as she rolls over on to her back. So…I try not to go near her or get upset, but still feel compelled to show her what actions of hers I am upset with. She is approx. 1 1/2 years old. What might be the best way to get the message through to her, or is she getting it without me needing to show her? Thank you!


    Minette Reply:

    you don’t need to show her, she is being submissive. You need to put the trash and the hamper up so she cant get to them.


    Peter Gobel Reply:

    I try to stress what I want the dog to do, so, I would put a really tasty filled Kong by both the trash and the hamper and let her know that those are good to chew.


    Linda Reply:

    You can’t punish a pet after the face; you have to catch them in the act for it to work….and avoiding a situation is better than having to contend with it, so the other people have good ideas~ keep the things that get her in trouble out of reach.


  8. Celine says:

    We moved about a month ago. Joey, my 2 yr old lab was doing quite well. She was anxious for just about a week, after which she was all adjusted. She was giving queue if she needs to do 1 or 2. I would open the door and she was free to come in when done. AFter 2 months in the new home, one day, we noticed that the food of the bed couch ( where she sleeps at night ) was wet. We thought that something spilled because it did not smell. Joey showed some guilt reactions by avoiding to go near the couch, and hid under the bed for a long time. We did not scold him or anything, in fact we gave her more love. We cleaned the couch and moved on. It happened again 2 days after, she wet it, this time she stayed on it until my daughter asked her to leave it. She was wet all over. She went under our table and did not leave it until my daughter pulled her and washed her. Again we did not scold her or anything. We washed the couch and aerated it … to date, it has not happen again. But what could this be? In the past when she has some accidents she would always go under a table and not leave until we pull her out. But never in a place where she sleeps…..What could this be?


  9. cj Kirkpatrick says:

    I have NEVER hit my little King Charles Cavalier – but when she makes a mistake on the carpet (usually because I didn’t know she need to go out), she is wide-eyed and happy until I react to her mistake (loudly!), and then she is a very unhappy doggie!


  10. Mike S. says:

    Yup, we need to remember that dogs are not human and have simple forms of emotion. My latest dog (American Bulldog) is about 11 months old and he’s a 75 Lbs bundle to handle. But, I knew that going in. When left alone, he’s chewed up all of his beds within about 5-10 minutes, chewed up my age old wooden spindles upstairs, chewed up age old fireplace tiles, molding, etc. You name it. I might get angry, but I can’t blame him.

    I limit access to certain areas, give him lots of chew toys, take him on walks, and try to understand what certain behaviors he exhibits so that I can address them. He requires a lot of attention and constantly asks for it, but sometimes, he may want something specific. For example, at about 8 or 9pm I take him out to do his biz, then he likes his favorite Kong with some peanut butter. He calms down and then puts himself to bed. Took me forever to figure that one out.

    When a dog is bored they can become destructive. Find ways to keep them entertained with limited access to certain areas. If he’s relatively happy, you’ll have a lot less problems.


  11. Laura says:

    My one puppy shows quilt before I have found out what she has done. she runs & sits on the stairway with her tongue sticking out & sad eyes. Then I start looking to se what she got into.


  12. My dog chews up everything that is personally mine, such as a paper back book I am reading, my lipstick out of my purse when she finds my purse open, one particular wicker basket, another wicker basket she has never touched(her toys are in that one), etc. The other night she got into the bedroom (usually keep door shut) and was chewing up a magazine that was in the wicker basket when I decided to go into the bedroom to get something I had left in there. She had her back to me so that she couldn’t see me even though she heard me coming. Quickly she jumped from the floor to move away from the basket and jumped onto the middle of the bed. She then turned around and looked at me as if to say, “Well hi, I was just sitting here on the bed waiting for you to come to bed”, a slight ingratiating smile and then the most innocent look I have ever seen on a dog’s face. You cannot tell me that she was not enjoying herself as my expense and when I caught her in the act she was humiliated and embarrassed. I promise you, her facial expressions are a work of art. They are designed to make me laugh instead of scold her.


  13. Bhavana says:

    I’m not sure about dogs not feeling guilt after doing something they are not supposed to.

    I can clearly see that my dog knows when she does something she’s not supposed to, like going on the hill in our backyard – she stands there and looks back at the house door several times to make sure nobody is watching before she decides to go forward with it. Then when she gets caught and gets yelled at, she runs back to her kennel and displays the guilt face.
    Is there any other explanation for that behavior? And if she is really afraid, why does she keep doing it?


    T patton Reply:

    I agree with you. it does not matter what the experts say, my dog shows guilt when he has done something he knows is wrong. he is german shepard mix and that breed is highly intelligent. dogs may live in the moment, but they can sense that you are upset about a behavior that they know is naughty. my dog puts his tail between his legs and looks sad with those big brown eyes.


    Minette Reply:

    But that is not “guilt” that is appeasement because as you say he knows you are upset… he is showing you that he cares. Not about whatever inconsequential object but because you are upset he is upset.

    Dogs mirror our behavior.

    That doesn’t mean he thinks that getting in the garbage or going potty on the carpet is bad…until he is chastised then he learns to show you “guilty” behaviors.


  14. Bill Taylor says:

    Sir, you are spot on. I am a retired veterinarian with a special interest in canine and feline behavior. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experience and knowledge. Bill Taylor, D.V.M., M.S.


    Linda Reply:

    Thank you for your comment. Many veterinarians are good as vets when they treat your animals’ illnesses but actually do not understand the psyche of them. I wish you were my vet.
    I have discovered that a person’s intelligence has little to do with understanding their pet; it’s some kind of innate, (maybe?) understanding…


  15. jeanie says:

    I have two Maltese dogs. One is 4 yrs old and the other 12 yrs. I have never noticed them feeling guilty until one day I walked into the bathroom, and there was poop on the small rug by the tub. I did not act angry nor was my voice angry. I just said”Oh somebody pooped in here”. My older Maltese just sat there looking at me, but the younger one came in subdued and hanging his head, so I knew right away who had done it. I just told him “No No”, and pointed to it, but I do believe he felt guilty or knew he had done something wrong. He is a very cocky, energetic dog, and not usually subdued. Is there any other way you would interpret that behavior?


  16. Lynda says:

    My cocker/lab will act guilty if you act angry but she will also turn agressive. I have never beaten her but if she doesn’t want to do something like take a bath or go into the house and you reach for her collar she will bite. I don’t know where this behavier comes from and I don’t know how to controll it. can you help


    Jo W. Reply:

    Perhaps if your dog can associate ‘reaching for her collar’ with some actions more positive for her she will stop biting. When you want to take her for a walk, a ride in the car, or even to take her to her bowl for dinner, try taking her by the collar. Maybe use a simple ‘let’s go girl’ with your action. Hope this helps.


    lilia Reply:

    in a case the dog bite when you grab the collar i use what i call a “remote controle”a string attached to the collar,that i can approach calmly,put my foot on first to stop the dog,then call the dog to me with treat,reward and gently take the string in my little with dog or take him on a short walk before you take him in the bath,in this way he dont see comming to you as bad experience. at the same time u need to train your dog with clicker,touch the collar,click,treat,touch,click,treat,gradually hold it for more time until the dog see it as a positive experience.never try to catch your dog by the collar in front,the dog can see it as threatening position,but put yourself on dog left side,as for heeling.also play the game “look at this”:put a toy or a treat at a small distance,while holding dog gently by his collar,say “get it!”,click and release,let him reach the toy and play,or eat his reward.hope it help!


  17. carla brown says:

    i understand what was written but how does one explain the following:

    moose is in general, a very good dog. everyday when i come home from work, he is at the door to meet me (complete with wagging tail).

    in the last couple of weeks, moose has decided to raid the garbage a couple of times. it is on THESE days, he does not meet me at the door – preferring to lie quietly in the living room. (trying to be invisible..)

    i have never beaten moose. and for a good measure, normally i am happy to be home and it is only in the first few minutes that i realize of the damage done.

    but i don’t have the time to be angry BEFORE he is even hiding.
    smells like guilt.


  18. Edmond Shipman says:

    My dog Trinty, came from a shelter and is about 20+ months. I have never hit her but the sound and tone of my voice will change the way she responds. I was told by the shelter that she had a bad situation, that’s all they said about her past. We can be on the couch and I can talk to her in a baby tone and she likes to kiss (lick) me and play but if I use a gruff tone she lays her ears back lowers her head as if she were in trouble. Just from one tone to another I get these actions, however I have noticed this in other dogs I have had. Their reactions I feel come from them thinking they have done something wrong or something good by your tone of voice. Anything to this or not?


  19. Janet says:

    I think I may be the only person who isn’t mad at this dogs owner. I think he used a soft easy going non-agressive voice to talk with his dog. Far from scary or mean. Even though these animals are not “little people” they are animals that need disapline at times.


  20. colin maine says:

    this is the way dogs are made for better or worse you have to live with what you helps,but dogs make mistakes good luck with your doggie.


  21. I think we are the confused ones. Because we love our pets and feel they are members of our family, we interpret their reactions with our human emotions and end up assigning and transferring those human emotions to the dog’s reactions. It makes the pet more human to us. This is just my opinion because I am as guilty of it as anyone! My Pug is my little boy and I treat him just like a child. My grown children tease me about how I talk to him and about him, so I completed understand why we think our pets display guilt just like so many of the other emotions they display. BUT I do not think they are capable of planning or plotting revenge or vengeful acts against their owners.


  22. Carole says:

    Hey Carla,

    By no means am I an expert – I just love dogs!

    I think the article is referring to the feeling of guilt only and means that dogs can’t feel that particular emotion like humans.

    Yep. They know when they’re in trouble (like yours) and will react as expected: hiding, and giving that clever look: “I-would-never-in-a-gazillion-years-do-that! Iz u crazy?!?”, etc. However, they aren’t conveying the emotion of guilt but rather the realization that they know what they did was a no-no.

    “Yep, Mom. I did it! I knew it was wrong but I don’t feel guilt afterwards so I ate that last bit of tuna in the can and the cheese dip off the paper towel and part of that Chinese carton, and I shredded everything else. I know you’re not going to be happy about it because I’ve caught up on your behavior pattern. So, I’m just gonna go and chill out for a while and will see ya when you aren’t mad anymore. AFTER you’ve cleaned this mess up. YUCK! Look at this place, will ya?!?” That’s indeed the pet’s intelligence rather than guilt. Moose is a cool dog, IMHO.

    I believe the author is accurate. When I think more about it, I know some humans who have a problem feeling guilt. They react to getting caught, but don’t feel guilt like most others; they just hate getting caught and don’t necessarily feel any sad emotion for the victim of their crime.

    Best wishes to you and Moose!



  23. judy says:

    i have 5 dogs,3 yorkies ,poodle an beagle, 3 cats..fenced back yard cats in an out no problem there..1 or 2 of my males like to go in my dining room an hike their legs an pee on my floor never caught the guilty party ,no guilt on their face..I let them out every 2 hrs,just gripes me that they continue this,planning on moving in 10 months an will have sun room, with linolium floors, be dog room with doggie door they can go in an out of when they get the urge an if they go pee at least be easy to clean up,have laminated floors hate them, an too keep smell down im constantly patience wear thin but I dont scold them,have neighbors they bark when out so leave out like 10 min at a time,country here i come,no neighbors.just wish i had more control over them wetting on my floor have no idea how to stop this,any suggestions appreciated..judy


    Linda Reply:

    Judy, are your male dogs neutered?


  24. noreen says:



  25. F. Elliott Long says:

    Neither humans, nor animals have an innate sense of guilt. In humans, it is learned .


  26. Mary says:

    I had two Irish setters that would get out and run away across the neighboring ranch for hours before coming home. When they did they stood at the door with heads down, tails between their legs and if I could interpret their body language it said we are sorry and we will never do it again. Of course they did next chance they had. Yes I scolded them and then subjected them to combing out ticks, burrs, and cow paddies. It may be appeasement and not guilt,but it sure was one or the other. I realized it was dog pack behavior and there wasn’t much I could do about it other than fencing or tying them up. When I had just the male, he never ran away. On one of their escapades, he didn’t come back. It broke my heart as he was such a special dog. I kept the female and she didn’t run on her own. Last January I had to put her down at the grand old age of 17. I have a young male Irish setter and he stays home.

    I can’t help but believe dogs do remember and if they anticipate a scolding because they got one before, is that not memory?



    Linda Reply:

    Mary, yes, dogs do remember things but why are you punishing them for coming home?? Home is to be a safe, happy place..If you have to go out and find them elsewhere and show disappointment in them until yu hit your property, you then change to ‘good dogs for coming home’ even tho you prodded them to get here.


  27. Sharon says:

    i recently lost my 8 year old dog Hank a border collie/sheltie mix. He was the smartest dog I have ever known. He was very good most of the time, however once in a while he would get something off the counter or the table when I was gone. I would come home and he would look very dejected and GUILTY. The first couple of times I thought he was sick so made a fuss over him, then I realized this was his “I know I did something you wouldn’t like” act.
    My other dog Daisy, a cocker spaniel, has no sense of guilt or remorse at all. I love her but she can be a challenge. She does seem to want to please me more now that she is an only dog though.


  28. Jasmine says:

    one time my 7-month-old black lab knocked over my juice onto the carpet when i was hanging out the washing i came in a saw his face it looked so guity


  29. Sue Miller says:

    I have two Cairn Terriers. They are not allowed on the furniture. The female likes to jump up on the back of the couch, when I am not in the room, to look out the window. When she does, the male barks (to tattle on her), until I come into the room. Previously, I had yelled at her “OFF” and sent her to her kennel. Now, just my appearance causes her to jump down, sit in front of me with ears back and then runs off and puts herself in the kennel.
    You may call that a learned & submissive behavior, which it well may be; however I call it memory, awareness of a negative behavior, followed by guilt, and her own processing/understanding she needs a time out.
    They are so smart, I have to work at maintaining Alpha status everyday!


    Minette Reply:

    You are right, it is a learned behavior… but it is not guilt. It is a representation of you making her get off… she has learned to get off and show you appeasement behavior by putting her ears back she escapes more chastisement.

    She continues to jump on the furniture, because it feels good and she can see out of the window and she likes that. She is simple.

    That is why I love dogs.


  30. this article really hits home for me,,,my lil doggie, is just a plain, simple little guy, and occasionaly he will wonder next door to visit some friends he has over there, i will call him and he comes right back home but this has taken around 2 years for him to learn to come home when i call. and i always say where idi my doggie go? u are posed to stay home less mom’s with you, so now after this repititon, he knows to stay and when he goes over there and i call him to come home,,,he always has this smoiley, look ” opps, duh, did i do that again,,,am i in trouble,,,oh gee george” love you mom,,,:-) he is a really good boy-doggie and now when i call him home,,and he comes with in a few minuts, i just tell him my good boy comes home,,,and i try really hard not to get angry, i dont really get angry, i am more afraid for him..i am way bad with the over protection and spperation issues…but i love him so darned much,,,my doggie is a very-good-boy-doggie!!


  31. Catherine Andrews says:

    I’ve just been reading these interesting comments about dogs and their guilt. Over the years I’ve read/heard what animal experts say about dog’s emmotions/behaviours etc. I’ve had dogs all my life and at the age of sixty think I’ve some understanding of them (even if I’m not considered to be an expert!)

    My most intelligent dog Molly would always race out to me meet when I came home absolultly beside herself with joy. However every now and then, she’d come quietly, sit in front of me and put her head down between my ankles. After a few pats etc. I’d say “where is it?” and she’s take me and show me what she’s destroyed. After I’d cleaned up she’d then come and lick whatever part of me she could get at.



  32. Yasmin says:

    I don’t know about whether dogs feel guilty or not but my 8mth old West Highland Terrier knows that she;s not allowed certain things – she will grab any forbidden article and retreat out of the room VERY quietly – if she is sprung and is challenged “what have you got there?” she goes hell for leather through the house and out into the backyard! Of course she is hoping it will turn it a game.


  33. After having dogs for over 60 years I believe they do feel guilty in the same way as humans, it is taught. I believe they also will get even over some slight to them.

    I also believe they have inherited memories beside the “natural instincts”.

    I got my last dog from the pound at 5 weeks of age it was the only pup left alive in the litter. it was full of worms & scheduled for the gas chamber.

    He is lab & chow mix. He likes to play pull with ropes, rages, small tree limbs. ect…
    One morning I picked up by belt to put in it my pants in front of him. He dropped his ears, tail, head, & cringed in fear. He had never been struck with anything in the 6 months that I had had him. He got this fear from somewhere & I do not think it came in the 1st 5 weeks of his life, I think his mother was severly beaten with a belt.

    When he is caught with some illegal material such as, glove, shoe, reading glasses, he will cover it with both feet & lay his head on the feet to hide it. Drop his ears & tail & put on a sad face.

    If he is denied something he wants in the house he will go outside & tear up something, such as flowers, or anything with our sent on it. Then he comes back to the house with it, places it by the front door, & looks guilty.


    Minette Reply:

    Dogs are dogs, they do things that they like that make them feel good and they live in the moment.

    For revenge look to your human counterparts. We are the only ones who plot out how to make people “pay” for something that they have done to us.


    T Patton Reply:

    I agree with Mr.Thompson. everyone is so bent on giving their opinion that there is the exception. just because some people do not agree it also ok. I know what I see in my dog. He is very smart, and will hide the hole that he dug to keep me from seeing it, and he knows when he has done something wrong from the tone of my voice. He will give me that guilty look which makes me laugh sometimes. This subject is not black or white, and people do perceive things according to their experience which may be different from someone else.


  34. Eugenia says:

    Hi Chet,

    We have adopted a 9 year old australian shepherd and he is now with us 5 months.
    Everthing seams to be going well considering he was in a garage and his cage all the time before.
    The other night I had gone up to bed and my husband was closing all the lights as usual and Patch our dog had already started barking alot and then when he saw my husband at the top of the stairs he showed his teeth and growled at him twice. We don’t understand this behavior and are concerned. We are very gentle and affectionate with him, so we are really looking to understand this attitude.
    He was fine the next day wagging little tail .

    PLease help us understand.
    thanking you in advance


    Minette Reply:

    Be very careful, as it is never worth a bite.

    However, my best guess is he cannot see like he use to and herders are known to have trouble seeing in the dark.

    Keep him with you and carry treats when you turn out the lights.

    But again, be very careful!!! Showing teeth is always a great concern to me, because it is usually the warning right before the bite.

    I bet your vet could see if he has cataracts and how his vision might be affected.


    Eugenia Reply:

    Thank you for your answer regarding Patch, our australian shepherd. He did bite me on both arms, the first night he arrived during his dinner time . We still had our golden, who past away this past May. Even though he had his teeth in my arms , I took his chocker and put him on the floor with my elbow and then removed him from the kitchen into the backyard for 5 minutes. I saw fear in his eyes because I was 2 seconds ahead at placing dinner for both my golden and then Patch. So I assumed he felt threatented and thought that because her bowl arrived 2 seconds earlier ,he went to eat from her bowl and when I said no moving my arm to block him and he growled and bite my arm.
    However, after I let him back in I kept his bowl on the counter, I asked him to sit and wait. I then put the bowl in place and made him wait 5 minutes and then allowed him to go eat.
    I have not had a problem with that since. We love him and it was really hard for me to put him out , but I needed to show him who is boss and his reaction was unacceptable. I can put my hand in his bowl while he is eating and he will just wait until I finish.
    His past owners screamed at him a lot and we are the complete opposite. We want to give him the best with lots of love.
    We had friends over with their 3 little girls and Patch played with them no problem, but now I am worried and I really,really want this to work. Am I over reacting?
    Thank you


    Minette Reply:

    The only way to help you is to see his behavior with my/someone’s own eyes.

    Contact a veterinary behaviorist to hellp you.


  35. Betty Adams says:

    My little Maggie is 8 months old. When she does something wrong she will go to her crate and stay there for a while. I have never punished her by putting her in the crate, but she seems to think that is a safe place.



  36. marie says:

    I have a 7 yr old miniture poodle. I am retired, live alone with 2 dogs and 3 cats. I am a young 56 yr. old. the problem is he has bitten a few people especially if they touch me. When they leave he runs after them, and tries to bite them. someone has sugested that he may be posive of me. Is this possible? How can I change this problem? I don’t hit , I sometimes yell not often thou. Maarie


  37. Edward Allyn says:

    I have lived with dogs and cats for my entire adult life and I have no doubt that dogs feel guilt and are capable of acts of retribution if they feel slighted. When I was in the Navy 40 years ago I pulled a 24 hour communications watch and when I got home found that my dog Duchess had gone into the guest bedroom, carefully pulled down the corner of the bed spread and deposited a turd dead center in the middle of the pillow. I couldn’t even get mad because of the circumstances so all I could do was laugh at my folly for failing to make arrangements for her to have company in my absence. I had her company for more than 14 years and she never did anything like that again. Cats, on the other hand seem to be capable of affection, but remorse? Nah. I love them all anyway.


    Minette Reply:

    Think like a dog.

    Maybe it was because the guest bedroom was the “guest bedroom” and she didn’t spend a lot of time in there.

    Maybe it was on the bed (which I bet she scratched off the covers and did not sneakily unfold the corner) because she got in trouble earlier in her life for going potty on the floor.

    And, the bed is “soft” more like grass than a hard floor.

    She never did it again cause you didn’t leave her for 24 hours again (no wonder she had to go).

    Dogs just aren’t vengeful or “mean” they are dogs.

    They try to do the best they can, but they don’t plot or plan retribution.

    And, they only appear to feel guilt after we have “chastised” and taught them to show us these behaviors.


  38. Janice Parker says:

    My dog has that same look I don’t know if it is guilt or she thinks she is cute. Not trying to change the subject but, how, do I stop her from digging up my whole yard and chewing everything in the house? She gets on top of the table to get things. I leave her, her favorite toys out but she still gets everything off counters and the table help!


    Minette Reply:

    read that and exercise


  39. Paula says:

    Chet, you stated that dogs “live in the moment”. This is what my 5 month old German Shepherd’s trainer told me when I was having a hard time leaving him in a kennel for 3 days while I left town. The trainer said that people attach too many human emotions to dogs and that he will not be sad & wondering why I left him, if I’ll ever come back, etc. Instead, because they “live in the moment” he’ll be interested in the dogs next to him and what’s going on around him. If I could believe this is really true, I would feel so much better about having to leave him because right now it’s breaking my heart. Thanks.


    Minette Reply:

    Dogs miss us, they mourn, some of them have a hard time at the kennel or away from their people.

    But most don’t have a real sense of time so 4 hours or 4 days is hard for them to determine.

    The “live in the moment” is good because he won’t still be thinking about his stay when you bring him home…he will be off into something new.

    Try doggie day care or drop him off for a few hours and see how it goes and good luck to you.


  40. Robyn Palminha says:

    Maybe it’s just us but our puppy wags happily when he makes a mistake. He does ask to go out but we have to be sooo quick to catch him. Our fault if we don’t … and no good becoming annoyed and having him hide it. It would make my life difficult sniffing around trying to find the wee smell. Just have to keep the running shoes on!


  41. Koby says:

    a few weeks ago my niece visited me with her son and their dog Bella, she was very well behaved when they arrived. On the Sunday she took them to the beach where they spent most the day, that night Bella had an accident on my carpet, which I accepted. But the next morning she just went blatantly and did a wee on the carpet in front of us. I did not understand why, cause the door was open and she has never done this at home. We all paid a lot of attention to her, even though I also have my own dog Lucy, who is very sociable and use to other dogs. The following evening we went out and left the two of them alone, I went to my bedroom and found that Bella had done a no. 2 on my bed. I can not understand why she did that, could you possibly be able to explain her behavior to me please.


  42. Lin Fontan says:

    I agree that dogs don’t feel guilt. They are kind and sweet; not like most humans. The more people I get to know; the more I love my dogs! Cherish them. They are with us only a short time.


  43. brenda says:

    hi i have two dog that are fighting i think it thing for our attion they been fight bad drawing blood now there stay away from one another but i scared one is going get reall hurt there one year husky. 4 year assie but they been get along fine for a while but they have get in before .we try do more trianing with them


  44. Marcia says:

    I know my dog did something wrong today because he already took one of my husbans shoe out side and I catch him trying to take the other one outside so I told him he was natty so droped the shoe when I told him to so I told him to go to his cage for a time out . So why does he do that? It is’nt that we dont give him no loveing we are all ways psting him playing with him when we can.


    Minette Reply:

    You told him he was bad, as you stated right?

    He went to his safe place


  45. Janet says:

    Hi – I have a beautiful white German Shepherd.

    I don’t believe that dogs feel “guilt” either – but I think that it is in their nature to WANT TO PLEASE their owners.

    When they can tell by your behaviour (whatever form you use) that you are not happy with them – they can get quite withdrawn and hide – but I don’t think out of guilt. Mine will usually wait a little while (probably for me to calm down) then come running back wagging his tail.

    I DO NOT BELIEVE IN HITTING DOGS. I just talk to him.

    One day when I was at work he got to my Avon boxes in the lounge and pulled out a few things and ripped open the boxes. When I came home (after I calmed down) I took him to the boxes and told him THEY ARE NOT FOR DOGS – and he has never touched anything in the boxes since!!!!!!!

    To “Brenda” re the fighting dogs. I had a friend who had two dogs that used to fight like that and the Vet said it can be a jealousy thing. He suggested NEVER make a fuss of just one dog – ALWAYS BOTH OF THEM. Get some more advice on how to deal with it. Good luck.


  46. Sarah says:

    All right, I probably didn’t think that ‘dogs’ could ever feel guilty about what they did wrong, I still think its not the real guilt that they fell, but they may be scared like ” What now?” Well, after looking at this pictures especially the second one.. I think I’m gonna take a closer look at each of my dogs before saying who was the one that did the mess..


  47. Training Log says:

    You share very good information Minette, What motivated you to call this blog “Dogs Are Simple People”, not that the title does not go with the content, I am just wondering. Thank you for the article Minette.


    Minette Reply:

    Because I think people put too many “human” devious characteristics on dogs and dogs are simple “live in the moment” kind of “people”. They don’t plan their lives on retribution they only enjoy the moment for what it is 🙂


  48. Autumn says:

    I understand that we often give our dogs too much credit for emotional responses but I think we often don’t give them enough. I have an example of true guilt:

    I had come home from work at the same time I always did to find neither of my dogs, Mindy a Sheltie & Lacey a Maltese, greating me with the typical exuberence. Instead they were both hiding in their crates. I did not think they had done something naughty, in fact I thought something had scared them terribly. I got down on my knees and coaxed them out. Lacey, just a pup, came to me with the excitement I had missed at the door. Mindy came to me slouched, tail between her legs & majorly avoiding contact. I patted her side & tried to get her excited – to avoid coddling & reinforce the behavior she was displaying. As I headed towards the door, I see my parakeet, “played with to death” (how it excaped its cage I’ve never been able to figure out). I gasped “You guys!”. Back to the kennel was Mindy – Lacey didn’t care & actually then brought me the limp, dead bird as if I could make it “interactive” again. Neither dog was scolded for the death of the bird since neither had ever shown any interest in the birds before & a sinple paw to the little guy could have caused its demise. Basically they had destroyed a toy, which they had never been scolded for. They had never damaged any of my property so never scolded for that. They had never been scolded for messing with the birds so they didn’t have any experiences there. They were expressing guilt behavior before I even entered the house & while trying to be reassured. They had to know they had done something wrong and I would be upset. Also, I never punished them by locking them in their crates – they were hiding in shame 😉


    Minette Reply:

    Did you read the scientific study?

    It explains a lot.

    I am going to go with science!


  49. Judy Hall says:

    I have a 5 yr old terrier poodle mix and she is a great dog but she will only come when she feels like it and she is not motivated by treats and even positive reinforcement doesn’t always work unless she wants it. At home she will not come when I call her, she hides under things when it is time for her to go to bed in her kennel. If I want her to come sit with me on sofa she won’t come until she feels like it. I am disabled and about to have spine surgery and I cannot get on floor to drag her out from under table, bed etc. when it is time to go to bed and if I leave her loose in house when I am asleep she will go potty in the house. I have taken her for training but it hasn’t worked because she doesn’t want treats when training.. I have pretty much given up. Please help with some advice.

    Thank You


  50. Lori says:

    I walked away briefly while my 1 year old male Bichon and almost 6 month old female MaltiChi were playing on the floor. (I have been trying to get the female accustomed to wearing a cloth sanitary panty/skirt so when she goes into heat, there will be a barrier between the two dogs if in case they end up together.) I swear I was gone 2 minutes at the most and came back to see the skirt in the mouth of my male dog. I asked the dog, “did you take that off?” in a curious tone and he just stopped and his mouth got soft like he was about to drop it right then and there and he got this slightly unsure look about him. I didn’t even talk with him in an angry tone but he got the picture that something about the situation wasn’t right. He really is incredible. He is also a master at reading my 3 children and he plays with all 5 of us differently according to our separate behaviors and habits. It is also really interesting that both dogs seem happiest to see my husband at the end of the day and he handles/pets the dogs the least of anybody… I mean, he barely touches the dogs, EVER and they LOVE him to death! *sigh* I guess that says something about the rest of us too!


  51. William says:

    When we had our last dog, our son teased her continually. About once a month she would poop on the little throw rug right next to his bed where he had to step in it when he got up. To me this seemed like payback.

    Another time we had to leave her once overnight and forgot to leave a light on for her (she didn’t like to be left in the dark). When we returned the next day we found she had pulled the quilt and both sheets off of the bed. She had also dumped the clothes hamper in our bedroom and took put all my dirty clothes in a pile in the living room and all my wife’s in a pile in the bedroom. She didn’t chew up anything. She was sitting in the living room looking at us as if to say, ‘see what I can do when you leave the lights off’.


    Minette Reply:

    Have you ever thought she was scared and nervous and just doing something to relieve the stress?

    Dogs really aren’t manipulative so many studies have proven it.

    But, they do get stressed and occasionally do things that we would consider naughty to relieve stress.


  52. Lynn says:

    Interesting article and I agree but would like to share a story. I have (at the time)a 12 month old German Shepherd. In the Texas summers, he gets really hot. I routinely “wet him down” and he allows and likes that. I also have him a “Kiddie Pool” that he will walk around in. We have had it for several months and he, although a puppy has never chewed on it or anything of the sort. He just walks in it and leaves it alone. However,I decided to “show him” how to use it to his advantage and lie down in it. I had to sort of force (gently of course) him down in it as he would not “lie down” for me. Well, the next morning I went out to check on him and that pool had been chewed to pieces. I guess he communicates pretty well what he likes and doesn’t like.


    Minette Reply:

    or it was simply fun to chew and you showed him a new way to get in and out of it and fling it around


    Lynn Reply:

    Could be…lol but I have found that he is definitely no dummy. His communication skills are amazing. If he happens to run out of food or water, he simply brings the bowl to the door and leaves it there. Lot of fun to have around. Thanks for your comment.


  53. tonya says:

    My dog is a year old and we can’t seem to atop him from pee and pooping on clothes in the laundry basket or if he sees clothes on the floor. When we call him to the area he runs in the cage.what do I do?


  54. Tracy Delamater says:

    My daughter’s GSD did something really bad in the morning and she scolded her immediately so I believe the dog connected the bad deed to the scolding. Her husband scolded her again when he go home 5 hours later. Do you think the dog knew what the husband was scolding her for?


    Minette Reply:

    Nope, not at all.

    Dogs learn to show us appeasement gestures and we think that it means they feel guilty.

    The truth is they are just afraid of us when we are angry and yelling.


  55. Amy says:

    Haha… that doesn’t mean he was “paying you back” for putting him in the pool. He could have just chewed it up because he hated it and didn’t want to deal with it anymore. That is completely different than paying you back, by chewing it up out of spite. You experienced some mild frustration trying to force him to lay down in the pool, probably taking his behavior as not listening because he didn’t like it, when really it wasn’t that he mistrusted YOU, he just wasn’t comfortable with it at the time. It also doesn’t mean he automatically hatched a plan to “show you what he can do.” Like I said, he probably saw the pool as a threat so he chewed it up to save himself from ever having to deal with it again.

    When you tell your kids no, they can’t eat candy 24-7, and dispose of all of their candy, it isn’t because you are trying to be spiteful, its because you know that an all sugary diet will rot their teeth out. Lol.


  56. Amy says:

    Dogs don’t speak English, and they don’t read minds… they read body language.

    Did she know she was in trouble? Yes, definitely.

    Did she know what she was in trouble for? Probably not, especially if she had already been scolded for it. Once a dog is scolded, they do their time and go on about their day.

    Humans are dwellers, not dogs. The only time a dog dwells on something is unconsciously, its in the behavior…. not their forethoughts.


  57. Haley says:

    My 9 month old Collie followed me up stairs and she started doing the ‘guilty look’ and I didn’t what she had done at the time. She had peed at the top of the stairs and I genuinely think she knew she shouldn’t have peed in the house because I did even notice or yell at her for her to do the ‘guilty look’. The past times she’s peed in the house she got yelled at then did the guilty look. Do you think this is possible she knows what is right and what is wrong or is it just a connection form the past scoldings?


    Minette Reply:

    Yes, it is fear from the previous treatment she has gotten.

    dogs don’t know right from wrong, if that was the case why would she have done it at all?


  58. MJ says:

    Thanks for the great article, but I’m still struggling a bit!

    My girl friend’s adult dog that she’s had for about 4 years is very bright and has a great personality, but is really sassy too.

    If she doesn’t get what she wants–a hand out, you make her go outside when she doesn’t want to or don’t let her outside when shes wants to (she will hold it for a surprisingly long amount of time), she doesn’t get to go on the couch or a bed that she wants to, etc.–she will run to another room the moment you turn your back. When she returns to where you are looking all proud of herself, you’ve got a big old mess to clean up.

    I understand the idea that dog’s aren’t really capable of planning per say, but that seems to be an action/reaction scenario that can only be viewed as some type of “revenge”, even if it is a little more amorphous than the human conception of such.

    Regardless, we’re struggling with ways to get her out of it, any ideas would be welcomed and very much appreciated.


    Minette Reply:

    The problem is she is doing the training… I don’t “turn my back” on these dogs… They are my responsibility to train.

    Of course the dog is sneaking off because it knows doing it in front of you brings negative things. Instead, teach and monitor


  59. MJ says:

    Hey, thanks Minette!

    I would have never guessed that never taking your attention away from your dog and “teaching” and “monitoring” them 24/7 would keep them from misbehaving!

    Thanks so much for such a great secret.

    So when will you come over to our house and put the groceries away, cook our meals, take care of the other pets, sleep for us, get us ready to go work, and all the other myriad things that require actual adult humans to take their attention away from their problematic canine friends for the 20 seconds it takes for said friends to relieve themselves indoors?


  60. Haley B says:

    My dog Henry is such a good boy. He is a 1 1/2 year old Pitbull he has been potty trained and we have even started over twice trying to see if he wasnt. Henry wants to go out constantly and knows what “out” means. He gets so ansy to go outside and wants out A LOT but when you take him outside he does nothing. Recently he has been pooping in the house. The past 3 days he has been pooping in the house and gotten in a lot of trouble for it. I’m at my wits end with him. My dad is ready to get rid of him because Henry sometimes does not let us know he wants out and just poops in the house and once he notices you saw his poop in the house he gives us this “guilty” look because he knows he did bad but continues to do it because he just doesn’t care. He does not like the outside at the moment because it it cold. But that shouldn’t give him the right to poop in the house. He also thinks if you do not take him out in .2 seconds when he sits at the door he has the right to poop/pee in the house and he does not what so ever. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE help!


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