The next time you come home to an expensive pair of chewed up shoes, you may want to think twice about yelling “bad dog” and lecturing your puppy. Recent scientific findings suggest that dogs are actually incapable of feeling shame.
So what about that guilty expression, the tail between the legs, and the cowering head? Animal behaviorists attribute these “guilty” behaviors to the owner’s anger. Dogs are simply responding to their owners’ reactions and are unable to connect that anger with the damage they did earlier in the day.
This isn’t to say that dogs are incapable of learning from their behavior. If a reward or punishment is handed out immediately after the good/bad behavior, dogs are more likely to connect their actions with the consequences. They still may not feel shame, but they will realize that something bad happens when they behave a certain way. (It’s important to remember that punishment should never be physical, a firm “bad dog” will do.)
So, what is an owner supposed to do when they come home to the insides of their trashcan strewn all over the floor? According to Dr. Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, “just get over it and remind yourself not to put temptation in the way next time.”