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Dogs 'feel no shame despite look'

Friday February 28th 2014

Dogs 'look guilty' when they are scolded because they react to their owner's behaviour - but they don't understand that they have actually done something wrong, according to experts.

However, Dr Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said dogs can learn to distinguish between good and behaviour if they are scolded right after they have done something wrong.

She added: "The farther it gets from that, the less connection is made with the behaviour. Humans have a natural desire to know what an animal is thinking, and yet we are limited to reading body language and measuring physiological reactions."

Alexandra Horowitz, an associate professor of psychology at Barnard College in New York City, was one of the first experts who analysed the 'guilty look' in dogs.

She filmed 14 dogs which had been 'told' by their owners not to eat a treat and studied how they reacted once the owner left the room. She found that some of the dogs disobeyed and ate the treats before their owners came back and some did not.

Ms Horowitz said: "I found that the 'look' appeared most often when owners scolded their dogs, regardless of whether the dog had disobeyed or did something for which they might or should feel guilty. It wasn't 'guilt' but a reaction to the owner that prompted the look.

"I am not saying that dogs might not feel guilt, just that the 'guilty look' is not an indication of it."

Copyright Press Association 2014

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