Can Dogs Feel Humiliated?

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Introduction

We've all been there - whether your trash can has been rummaged through or your couch torn apart, your pup seems to feel humiliated after our scolding and apparent disapproval of the new mess (at least so we think, right!?). But have you ever considered what your dog actually might be feeling? Does your dog truly feel bad that you just spent an hour re-stuffing cushions or even humiliated that you had to resort to scolding? Does the look on your pup's face say it all?

Complicated emotions like humiliation can be difficult to understand when it comes to our pets, but science shows they definitely feel something similar to it. Animal behaviorists have been able to go off of subtle behavior cues in order to determine how they feel. Want to know what signs to look for to determine if your pooch is feeling humiliated or embarassed? We've got you covered!

Signs Your Dog Feels Humiliated

Humiliation is a "secondary emotion," which is a more complicated emotion requiring self-reflection. Although the study of the dog's mind is an ongoing process, there is still disagreement among experts in the field of animal behavior on whether dogs truly do feel humiliation.

However, there are some sings you can look for (like after your pup trips or is scolded) to determine if your pup is feeling sheepish or even humiliated. Since not all dogs are the same, be aware of your dog's behaviors and whether your dog is expressing signs of distress or anger if humiliated. 

Sometimes, what may appear to be humiliation, such as hiding or running away, are signs of distress. Your furry friend could be feeling sick or upset as well, so be sure to watch for signs of illness like vomiting, diarrhea or pain when you touch them. These behaviors could inform you that this sheepish, even shy behavior could be stemming from a deeper cause instead of just humiliation.

Body Language

If your pup is feeling embarrassed or humiliated, you might notice they do some of these things:
  • Cowering
  • Wag tail
  • Ears drop
  • Averting eyes
  • Tail tucking

Other Signs

If your pup is feeling humiliated, it is possible they'll exhibit some of these signs as well:
  • Hiding
  • Submissive Behavior
  • Anxiousness

The Science Behind Dogs Feeling Humiliated

Emotions like feeling scared, being angry, or feeling sad are emotions that are processed automatically without any need to think about it. The feeling of humiliation, however, is a self-conscious emotion, which requires self-evaluation and self-reflection. So the question remains: are dogs able to look inward at themselves, and feel humiliated?

Through scientific study, researchers have determined that dogs have similar mental and emotional abilities as an 18-month-old human. Toddlers can feel basic emotions like anger, sadness, or happiness. With us, humans, the ability to feel empathy and other complicated emotions doesn’t begin to emerge until around 2 years old, and whether dogs react more similarly to a 2-year-old human is still up to debate. 

Until recently, researchers believed dogs didn’t have any sense of personal awareness because they failed something called the mirror test (this test includes putting red dots on a dog's face to determine if the dog recognizes the face as its own or just another dog when looking at its reflection). However, further studies showed that dogs do pass it when they are tested in the way they gather information about the world, rather than the way humans do. 

Like the mirror test, it’s possible we’re using the wrong tests to analyze our fur babies' emotions and cognitive abilities. While there is still a lot that isn’t known about man's best friend, it’s possible that researchers will eventually uncover evidence showing dogs really do feel secondary, complex emotions like humiliation. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that we believed dogs were fully colorblind, or that humans were the only species capable of showing emotions. Today we know neither are true, and that research needs to be continued. 

Training Your Dog to Deal With Humiliation

Some studies have shown that a pup's brain is more similar to the human brain than we once believed to be true, at least when it comes to processing social information. You can help build a strong relationship with your dog by sustaining eye contact. This mutual gaze causes oxytocin to produce in both humans and dogs alike, furnishing the bonding process (this form of social bonding likely developed during the domestication process!).

Not all dogs are created equally, so keep in mind that your dog might be more likely to feel embarrassed than others. The best thing you can do as an owner is to help your pup deal with negative behaviors. If your pup tends to feel distressed from their humiliation, you can train your pup to resort to their safe space (whether it be a crate, doggie bed, or your pillow) until they feel better. If your pup tends to hide when feeling humiliated, you can train them to run to their safe space for that, as well. 

Be aware that feeling humiliated and eventually angry is not an excuse for misbehavior. If your pup tends to feel angry when they're humiliated, remain in charge by calmly stating "no" or "stop" to keep the situation in control. 

How to React if Your Pup is Feeling Humiliated:

  • Give your dog lots of loving attention to help move past their embarrassment.
  • If obviously humiliated, don't hesitate to comfort your pup.
  • Try teaching your dog basic commands in order to keep behavioral responses under control.
  • Teaching your dog to retreat to a safe space is a great coping mechanism.