Can Dogs Feel Remorse?

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Introduction

When dogs misbehave, it always seems like they know they are doing something wrong. They know they aren't supposed to eat that pizza off the counter! 

Do you ever wonder what your dog is thinking about? Are they feeling emotions? When your dog eventually grabs that food off the counter or gets their dog treats, do they actually feel bad about it? 

Dogs are definitely very intuitive animals. They are just as attached to us as we are to them. They get so excited when we get home. Why are they so excited? Some dogs can even have separation anxiety. So, what does that mean when true feelings are concerned? What feelings can dogs feel? Can dogs feel remorse?

Signs that a Dog is Feeling Remorse

While dogs do experience feelings, they do not feel complex emotions such as remorse. Dogs can experience emotion to the level of a two-and-a-half-year-old human. That means they can feel some basic emotions. 

When you are cuddling on the couch with your favorite four-legged friend, you can be sure that they are feeling just as much love as you are. When your dog is feeling comfortable, you will notice that their body language is more relaxed. Their ears will be in a resting position and their head will be relaxed. You may notice, depending on your dog's personality type, that they are less bothered by distractions when they are super relaxed. 

When you get home, your dog truly is happy to see you. Dogs can feel happiness. You'll notice that your dog is happy that you've come home when they are wagging their tail vigorously, barking, or even running back and forth because they have so much energy. 

When your dog is angry, they are truly angry. You will notice they are angry when their hair stands up, when they start growling, or when they bark. Dogs tend to be quite protective of their owners and they do not like it when they think their owner is in danger.  

On the other hand, your dog can't feel embarrassment. So if you want to have a photoshoot with your pooch, they won't feel embarrassed about the poses you want them to do. 

While it looks like an expression of remorse, your dog is actually reacting to your body language and tone of voice. Dogs love to predict situations, so when they have done something that they know their owner does not like (such as go to the bathroom inside), they remember what happens next. Sure enough, their owner's voice might get deeper or louder and your body language might get tense. Your dog's reaction is actually more about fear than it is of remorse. 

You'll notice your dog is feeling fearful when they cower, put their tail between their legs, or put their head down. You will also see those big, puppy-dog eyes, or your dog might sit down and be still while gazing at you. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice when your dog is feeling fearful:
  • Staring
  • Head tilting
  • Cowering
  • Tail tucking

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you might notice if your dog is feeling fearful:
  • Puppy-dog eyes
  • Head lowered
  • Avoiding Your Gaze

History of Dogs Feeling Emotions

The dogs we know and love today did not always look or behave the way they do now. In fact, dogs were evolved from wolves, which were the first animal to ever be domesticated by humans. 

A bond between wolves and humans sprouted over 15,000 years ago. The relationship began when dogs noticed that the humans threw their leftover food into the wild. Wolves started getting closer in proximity in order to get more food. Eventually, the wolves started actually interacting with the humans. In return for their food, dogs provided extra protection to the communities. They also began assisting in hunting, which benefited both the humans and the wolves. 

Some wolves did not get very close to the humans out of fear, so those wolves did not evolve alongside the wolves who did get close to the humans. The wolves who formed a connection with the humans around them received shelter and more food. In order to better serve their humans, they began paying closer attention to what the humans did and how they reacted to things. 

Over time, the wolves began to look more and more like dogs. They were bred for all sorts of purposes. Some for protecting the community, some for hunting, and even some for protecting the area from small animals such as rodents. 

The dogs who have been better at predicting and reading humans have improved their quality of life and their levels of happiness. Dogs are body language experts. They pick up on what your body language means at a very young age. 

Science of Dogs Feeling Emotions

Dogs have many of the same processes in their brains that humans do. They even have similar brain chemicals such as oxytocin. Moments of connection with your dog are special to both of you because you are both releasing the same brain chemical, oxytocin. Oxytocin is known to produce feelings of happiness and love. Dogs also have serotonin and dopamine which are other brain chemicals associated with emotion. 

When dogs feel fear, they have brain chemical processes that trigger their emotions and dictate their next course of action. In order to best respond to their owners, dogs develop their ability to predict situations by having memories. For dogs, memories are basically impressions of specific moments. After repetition, dogs are familiar with the order of events and they are able to predict situations before they happen. For example, they learn to know what it means when they have eaten a slice of pizza off of their distracted owner's plate. 

Training a Dog Not to Be Scared

There are many benefits to training a dog. It is possible to train your dog to learn different behaviors. Because they have an ability to learn and understand to the level of a two-and-a-half-year-old, they can learn new things with regular and consistent reminders. 

Depending on their backgrounds, dogs react differently to fear. Some dogs respond by getting angry. They turn aggressive and begin barking or growling. These dogs are just trying to protect their humans. They are more sensitive to bothersome stimuli and they require more personal space. 

Some dogs react in fear by getting highly anxious. They may hide or begin cowering. They sometimes overreact to small things, such as a small leaf. These dogs are also trying to protect their owners. They are at the ready for whatever happens with this mysterious object. 

Other dogs are difficult to take on walks or they do not do well on outdoor patios at restaurants. It is possible to train a dog out of this behavior in order for them to have more appropriate respones in certain situations. Some dogs are more stubborn than others. It all depends on their background and personality type. Age is also a factor, but it does not mean that you will never be able to train older dogs. All dogs can learn new things. 

In order to train your dog not to be fearful, you'll need treats, positive body language, and a happy tone of voice. When your dog is disobedient, it is best to train them by not having an angry response. 

Instead, look for positive behaviors from your dog. Reward the positives and let go of the negative. For example, if you are potty training your dog, you can give them heavy praise and treats when they go to the bathroom outside. When they go the bathroom inside, you can ignore them while you clean it up and not give them attention until it is cleaned up. You don't want to punish your dog, but you also don't want to make them think you are happy about what they have done. 

How to React When Your Dog is Scared:

  • Give treats when they react appropriately.
  • Speak in a calming voice.
  • Remind them that they are okay.