Study: Dogs Don't Experience Guilt - New York News

Study: Dogs Don't Experience Guilt

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If man's best friend misbehaves, pet owners would like to think their dogs experience a little bit of guilt. But a new study shows that they do not feel guilt at all.

This is sparking controversy among dog owners. Some insist that their beloved canines do, in fact, feel emotions regarding the consequences of their actions. They call it the guilty look.

But one woman who calls herself a K9 scientist says that dogs have a guilty look only if they're scolded by their owner, not if they simply do something wrong.

"The guilty look does not signify a knowledge of a misdeed," said Julie Hect, of the Barnard College Dog Cognition Lab in New York City. "We found that the dog's behavior is not dependent on what the dog did, but what the owner did."

In other words, they don't know that their actions are wrong, only that it will bring a negative reaction from their owners. The 2009 study by Barnard College supports her point. In that study, dogs gave the guilty look whenever they were scolded, whether they actually misbehaved or not.

However, pet owners are not convinced by the study.

"I completely disagree with that. [My dog] knows when he's done wrong. He will go as so far to punish himself and put himself in his crate," said dog owner Maria Peters.

Experts distinguish between primary motions like joy and fear and secondary emotions like pride and guilt. Dogs can only feel the primary emotions. So when he gives that guilty look, it's not because he feels guilty, but because he think's the owner's mad and feels fear.

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