It's a fair question, and probably one you've wanted answered every time you've had to punish your poor pooch. How are you to know if your doggo doesn't have a grudge they're holding on to from that one time that you had to lock them in the crate for the day after they chewed up your favorite pillows?
We're here to provide you with a little relief: No, your dog can't resent you, not exactly, anyway.
While it's possible that your dog can harbor feelings of frustration, jealousy, or other emotions, it's important to remember that your dog isn't consciously making the choice to feel these things. Your dog doesn't have the capacity to discern why they're feeling certain ways or to act intentionally because of those specific things, either.
Instead, your dog has a stimulus based, cause-and-reaction sort of thing going on. So, while you think your dog might have peed on the carpet because you yelled at them earlier (and they very well may have), it's less of an "I resent you, mom" feeling and more of a "this seems like an appropriate or learned reaction."
Want to know more about your dog's emotions and how you can discern the difference between resentment and reaction? Read on!
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Signs Your Dog May Show that Look Like Resentment
Your dog has a bad short-term, episodic memory, meaning they're likely to forget certain events almost right after they happen. They do, however, have strong associative memory, which might cause them to react a certain way and may cause you to believe that your dog is holding a grudge or acting resentful.
Certain behaviors can dictate this thought process, such as excessive or repetitive barking, sniffing, biting, scratching, and howling. Your dog also might be giving off resentful behavior toward other dogs or humans with behaviors like growling, barking, yelping, nipping, or lunging.
- Ears drop
- Low tail carriage
- Tail tucking
- Ears back
- Destructive behavior
- Nipping or biting
- Territorial or aggressive behavior
- Lunging or attacking
History of Dog Emotions
In fact, this has been a common topic of debate since ancient times, and was a widely criticized and debated in early years of the church (around the 1500s) by French philosopher, Rene Descartes. According to Descartes, animals only have similar mechanical functions to people, they don't maintain the ability, like people do, to have consciousness and emotions.
Others, though, like, Stanley Coren, a dog behavioral scientist, think that dogs can feel things like love, anger, and depression, but are not able to process more complex, human-specific emotions like resentment, guilt, or shame.
The Science Behind Resentment
Resentment is a human emotion that people feel in order to explain misfortune and something that people use to help insulate feelings of disappointment. Resentment is, most of the time, a constant, bitter indignation as a result of being treated unfairly.
Dogs are unable to grasp this human emotion because they're not able to discern what's fair and what's not, and they're also not able to consciously decide to hold a grudge based on a certain experience due to their poor short term, episodic memory.
Training Your Dog Out of Negative Associations
For example, if your dog has learned to associate barking or nipping with a certain dog they don't get along with at the park, you can teach your dog to disassemble this association and retrain them correctly. How do you do this? Start by teaching your dog a new response.
If your dog has essentially trained himself to behave a certain way around a dog or a person, you need to ensure your dog understands that behavior is unacceptable. How? With consistency.
Keeping a close eye on your dog and punishing them when they react adversely, as well as consistently rewarding them when they don't, will work wonders for your dog. Be proactive, too. Ensure that you're telling other people in your dog's life to help cement new cues into your dog's head to help discontinue the negative associations.
How to React if Your Dog has a Negative Association:
Attempt to retrain them out of their behavior.
Avoid having your animal around the person or animal.
Work with a trainer or a behaviorist to get your dog retrained.
Discuss options with your vet.