Vet Blog

Regretfully Sheepish and Responsible: Do Pets Feel Guilt?

March 09, 2021

Our pets have a wide range of unique behaviors-some of these behaviors make us love them more, and others…well, we love them in spite of these behaviors.

If you have a pet that is prone to mischief, you might have noticed some particular actions that seem to represent the guilt they feel for misbehaving. Do pets actually feel guilt, though? The team at Highway Veterinary Hospital is here to help you decode these actions and figure out if pets are actually feeling guilty:

Pets Feel Guilt…Right?

According to Scientific American, an impressive 74 percent of pet owners believe their pets feel true guilt. We know our animals better than anyone, and we can see how their behaviors and emotions seem to change when they do something that (we think) they know is wrong. Do experts agree with our pet parent observations?

The answer is: it depends. While animal behavioral experts do agree that our pets display signs of remorse after eating our favorite pair of shoes or using our living room as their litter box, they believe that the animal is responding more to the tone of voice and body language than the fact that they misbehaved.

Expressions of Guilt

You may have noticed that when you scold your dog for tracking dirt into the house, he might fold back his ears, tuck his tail between his legs, or give you a sad look. These seem to be the equivalent of guilty human reactions like avoiding eye contact or changing the subject in conversation, which is why so many pet owners associate these physical reactions as expressions of guilt. Animals, especially dogs, can detect changes in human behavior, though, and they can tell when you are unhappy about something. If you are directing that unhappiness toward them, it does not make them feel good.

Teaching an Old…or Young Dog New Tricks

Sometimes all it takes to correct bad behavior is to scold an animal after they behave badly. This is another reason so many pet owners are convinced that their furry friends not only feel guilt, but they want to do what they can to avoid it in the future. In actuality, behavioral experts believe that they want to keep you happy, and they made the connection between bad behavior and a negative change in your mood. Because of this, they try to avoid doing that particular behavior that they know will upset you in the future.

Highway Veterinary Hospital is always here to help you find answers to your pet questions in Bowie. Whether you are wondering about a certain behavior or you want to schedule your annual wellness visit, we are here for you. Call (301) 249-2005 or visit us today.

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