Can Dogs Tell When You're Mad at Them?

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Introduction

We've all been there - you come home from a long day of work and all you want to do is kick off your shoes, sit on the couch, veg out for a bit, and cuddle with your furry best friend. You turn the key in the lock and open the door to a complete disaster area. Maybe there's trash all over the floor, maybe there's an accident in the house, maybe your shoes are chewed up, or maybe there's feathers everywhere (R.I.P. favorite pillow!).

No matter how perfect our dogs are, at some point, they're going to get into trouble. And as much as we love them, sometimes we just can't help getting mad at them. But can they actually tell that we're mad at them? Sure, they don't like that we're yelling, but do they actually know that we're upset? 

Well, according to science, the answer is actually yes! Depending on the behaviors we exhibit when we're mad, dogs will recognize them and react differently. So just make sure you don't stay mad for too long, and make sure your dog understands not to misbehave again!

Signs Your Dog Knows You're Mad

Dogs have been around humans for a really long time. As a result, they've learned to read our facial expressions, body language, and voices in a way that allows them to at least recognize what we're feeling. This includes anger. Your dog will react differently towards you when you're happy vs. when you're upset, especially when it's with them! Some of the signs you may notice/your dog may exhibit are listed below:

Puppy-dog eyes: they know we love them because we give them treats when they make that face! Doggos will give us the look they know melts our hearts in the hope of making us less mad.

Avoiding eye contact: oftentimes when we're mad at our dogs, we're yelling at them. They know we're the alpha - we're bigger than them, louder than them, and we eat whenever we want! So when we're hanging over them and using our loud voice, they're going to exhibit submissive behavior, like avoiding eye contact, tails tucked between their legs, ears flat against their head, or maybe even rolling over on their bellies. 

Avoiding looking at what they did: similarly they may avoid looking at the mess they made! We've all seen videos of those "bad dogs" who got into treats they weren't supposed to that seems like they're pretending what they did didn't happen. This is another submissive type of behavior; your pet thinks that if you don't see what they did, then you'll stop being mad and start giving them some love again! 

Whimpering or crying: a sad or afraid dog will also exhibit some signs of whimpering or crying to show their discomfort. They may respond to your loud noises (yelling, etc.) with their own sounds!

Body Language

If you're looking for body language that your pup knows you are upset, watch for:
  • Shaking
  • Whimpering
  • Averting eyes
  • Tail tucking
  • Stomach flip
  • Ears back
  • Whale eye
  • Urine sprinkling

Other Signs

A few more signs to look out for are:
  • Accidents or peeing after yelling
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Pretending they don't see what they did wrong
  • Siding up to you in the hopes you'll be less mad
  • Puppy-dog eyes
  • Running or hiding from you

The History of Dogs and Our Emotions

Dogs have evolved with humans. In fact, there is proof that we've been living with dogs for over 10,000 years! That means that we humans domesticated dogs a long time ago, and as a result, they've been living with us and have learned a lot. Part of this is learning how to read our facial expressions. 

Because they've been around humans for almost as long as we've been around, they've learned to associate certain facial expressions and voice patterns with different emotions. History really has turned our dogs into man's (or woman's!) best friend - they really can tell when we're mad, especially when it's at them!

The Science Behind Dogs Sensing We're Mad at Them

Even scientists want to know more about our dogs, how they feel about us, and what they really understand when it comes to our emotions. This has led to dog-loving scientists the world over doing studies with their pups to see how they react to certain things. One of these things was anger. 

A study in Finland showed that "dogs can pinpoint threatening facial expressions in humans, and the way they look at those angry faces is quite different from how they look at neutral or pleasant faces." 

Another study of 11 dogs showed similar results. "A group of researchers trained a group of 11 dogs to differentiate between angry and happy human faces." When they were shown part of a human's face in various emotional states, and dogs that recognized happy faces were given treats. 

They were very quickly able to recognize and respond to that training/command, meaning that they were able to tell the difference between various emotions. "The researchers are confident that based on their results, and results of other, less conclusive attempts, some dogs are able to differentiate between human expressions."

Training Your Dog to Read Your Emotions

As the study above has shown, dogs can learn to differentiate between emotions, and thus react differently. If you want your dog to know that you're mad, they're probably going know without any training, because of your facial expressions and tone of voice. 

However, if you want to do more, you can try to give your dog a treat every time you're laughing or smiling. Like in the study, your dog may be able to learn quickly that smiles mean good things, while frowns or yelling mean bad things. 

There's also training that you can do to prevent your dog from doing bad things. Give them treats when they're behaving appropriately, and reprimand them when they're behaving badly. If they keep getting into the trash, chewing up a specific pillow, or messing with your shoes, train your dog to stay away from those things. Give them treats when they're away, and scold them (calmly and reasonably!) when they're near what you don't want them to be near. Eventually, they'll get it!

How to React When Your Dog Misbehaves:

  • Do Not Respond Physically: DO NOT HIT YOUR DOG! These canines love us with all of their little hearts and trust us with their lives. Don't jeopardize that or take advantage of it through physical violence!
  • Try to remain patient: Your dog, as perfect as they are, can't understand English. So there's no wonder that they may not really get why you're mad! Take a few deep breaths,
  • Reward good behavior: You can't just scold a dog for doing something bad - dogs need positive reinforcement too. If they know what you like them to do, they may start to avoid the naughty behaviors!
  • Remove the tempting objects: If your dog likes to get into the trash, get a trashcan with a lid or put your trash away. If your dog likes to chew on your shoes, close your closet door. The less temptation for your dog, the less trouble they'll get into, and the less mad you'll be!