Scientists do not believe that dogs can feel complex emotions such as guilt and shame, despite their apparently guilty faces.
Dog owners have long believed their pets have a distinct guilty look when they have been naughty. But experts have revealed that although dogs do feel a range of emotions, any perception that they feel guilt or shame is likely to be misconceived.
Research suggests they are simply reacting to their owner’s body language rather than actually experiencing more complex feelings.
Owners taught their dogs not to eat a biscuit within their reach. Then the owners left the room, and another person conducting the experiment removed the biscuit or encouraged the dog to eat it. When the owner went back into the room and saw the biscuit had gone, they were asked to decide from the look on the dog's face whether it had been eaten or not. But they could not do so.
Dr Susan Hazel of the University of Adelaide, agreed. “There have been a number of studies, and it's pretty clear that dogs don't feel or display guilt,” she said.
“It's not the way their brains work.”
Elaine Henley, an animal behaviourist and lecturer in Scotland, said that dogs could feel emotions but that emotions such as guilt and jealousy were just human ideas.
“We don't know if animals feel them and must be careful about attributing human emotions to dogs,” she said.
“The dogs in the videos don't understand they have done wrong, so can't be shamed into good behaviour. Often, they are just as likely to go and do the same thing again.
“So when they look guilty, they are reacting to their owner's behaviour — the tone of voice, the gestures, maybe even the way their owner's smell.”