Your dog did something bad? Did she poop on the floor? Chewed your favorite sandal or your charger? “Bad dog! Bad dog!” you immediately say as you scold him.
Oh, look at that “guilty face”- by the looks of it, he knows he did something he wasn't supposed to do! Was he guilty?
No! Not exactly. Truth is, that dog isn’t feeling guilt but showing fear instead. A study led by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz
focused on how humans interpret dog reaction through our scope of emotion. That is, we tend to misread dogs’ emotions by looking at our own emotions. And (ta-dah!) this “guilty” look is the prime example.
"I look at a dog showing the guilty look and it feels guilty to me. It does! We're kind of wired to see it this way, so it's nobody's fault," says Dr. Horowitz.
Humans tend to anthropomorphize (talking to them as if they’re human) their dogs. And when we reprimand them, the “guilty” looks they show is a representation of the fear of scolding rather than the guilt and acknowledgement of the misdeed. Such look is distinct- dog cowers, pins its ears back to its head, licks in the air, showing the whites of its eyes.
Dr. Horowitz explained, "It seems unlikely that they have the same types of thinking about thinking that we do, because of their really different brains, but in most ways dogs brains are more similar to ours than dissimilar.” The concept of executive function or thinking about thinking, reflecting past actions and deciding if it’s wrong, isn’t likely present in dogs. "There is some work showing that some animals are planning for the future and remember specific episodes in the past. With dogs, there's not as much evidence yet. Which isn't to say that they don't, but it's to say that it's really hard to design experiments around it".
"They're not remembering it in language. They don't talk about it. Do they think about it, when they're lying on the couch waiting for you to get home? We don't know. We would love to know that, but we don't know."