Do Dogs Feel Guilt?

Recently there has been an increase in videos posted on social media depicting “dog shaming” or dogs looking “guilty” after getting into something they shouldn’t have. This raises the question, do dogs actually perceive guilt the same way that humans do or is this just our human perception getting the best of us. Thankfully, modern science has the answer to this question.

Dogs are incredibly adaptable and interesting animals because of the way they read our emotions, facial expressions and body language. For centuries they’ve been studying us and learning how to cohabitate with human beings. Although we can share a lot of similar traits, our tendency to anthropomorphize animals (applying human traits to animals) can lead us to make false and often detrimental assumptions about what they’re trying to communicate or are feeling.

When our dog gets into the garbage, chews our favourite shoes or pees somewhere other than outside, we tend to get upset with them. This leads our body to go through significant changes that our dogs, over thousands of years spent with us, have learned to identify. Slight changes to our posture, facial expression and tone of voice can determine how our dogs respond to us, even if we’re trying our best to hide it. Amazingly, our dogs can even smell changes in our emotions through the pheromones we secrete as we become angry, scared, excited, etc.

So what is a dog feeling when we shame or scold them for something they’ve done wrong (in our perception)? Well, the answer might make you feel a bit guilty for taking that puppy shaming video.

It turns out, our dogs aren’t feeling shame or guilt at that moment, they’re feeling fear. The behaviours we see as funny or cute are actually very real signals of stress and fear. Hiding, crouching down, tucking the tail, pulling the ears back, showing teeth, and having wide eyes or exposing the whites of their eyes are all signals that your dog is very uncomfortable and showing signs of stress. This can lead to a dog distrusting and fearing the person who, ideally, should be the person they feel the safest around.

So if we can’t shame or scold our dogs when they do something we disagree with, what can we do to stop the behaviour? The answer to this can vary depending on your dog and their day to day behaviour and routine. To unravel why our dogs get into things and become destructive around the house, we must ask a few key questions.

Has my dog had enough physical and mental stimulation today?

This can play a large role in behaviours in dogs. It’s especially true in puppies and more active breeds. For example, a German Shepherd needs significantly more mental and physical stimulation in comparison to a Shih Tzu because of their very different breed traits. One dog was bred for working and one was bred as a companion animal. Although a short walk might be enough to tire out a Shih Tzu, the German Shepherd will most likely need a lot more time to tire out and might even need some sort of mentally tiring work to do before being left alone.

Is my dog displaying signs of stress before I leave them alone?

Pacing, panting, following us around, whining and other restless behaviours can play a big roll in what our dogs are feeling as soon as we close the door to leave. If we take a moment to imagine what our dogs are feeling, it becomes clear why they’re having a tough time behaving when we leave. Dogs have been living among humans for thousands of years and they can have a significant attachment to their human companions. When we get up to leave, our dogs start to panic because they know they’ll be left behind. When we leave and close the door in their face, a full-blown panic attack can happen for some dogs. They might hyperventilate, whine, bark, and most importantly, look for ways to relieve this stress. Unfortunately, often our homes and furniture can pay the price for this. Giving our dogs a job to do before we leave can sometimes help to curb this behaviour. For example, asking your dog to go lay in its bed, waiting for them to be completely calm and possibly giving them something to chew on can help them stay calm when you leave and stay calm while you’re away. (My dogs love dehydrated sweet potatoes as their “go to bed” snack.)

Could my dog be exhibiting a medical issue that we’re not aware of?

Dogs are able to have many of the same mental and physical illnesses as humans but can display them in different ways. For example, many dogs can suffer from anxiety disorders that make it impossible for them to relax without proper medication. Some dogs can also have pain in their bodies that can cause them to be restless and release their energy in unexpected and often unwanted ways. This is why it’s so important to consult with a vet before seeking behavioural training so we can rule out any medical conditions that can get in the way of their rehabilitation.

These questions can help you determine the cause of a dog’s destructive behaviour and hopefully help you stay patient and calm when you come home to a chewed slipper or a knocked over garbage can. Always keep in mind, our dogs were bred, conditioned and biologically programmed to please and help humans. Although it might look like they’re doing things like this to annoy or “get back” at you, they’re really trying to communicate how stressed they are.

If you or anyone you know has had these issues with their dog and need some help curbing this behaviour, please don’t hesitate to reach out and hopefully, we can help your pup feel more calm and secure when left alone.

Frustrated With Your Puppy’s Training Progress?

Cute Puppy
The 5 stages of puppy development

Many people come to me with very similar problems. They’re struggling with their puppy learning how to go to the bathroom outside, to stop chewing on everything, to focus on commands, not take food, not chase their kids, not nip their hands and the list goes on and on. These issues are understandably very irritating, exhausting and extremely frustrating.

The important thing to remember when raising a puppy is that they are just a baby who is trying to take in their new environment. Let’s say, for example, you get a puppy at ten weeks old. Your puppy at this stage has just left everything that it was familiar with. It was just taken away from its mom, siblings, caregivers, home and all the familiar smells that go along with all of those things. This can be a very difficult time and it can take your puppy quite a while to get completely comfortable with its new surroundings and with its new caregivers.

It’s also important to keep in mind all the different stages your puppy has gone through and is still going through. Many people expect their puppies to be mature dogs in a very short amount of time. Hopefully, by learning about the different stages in your puppies life, it will make it easier to be patient with them as they develop.

Stage one: Neonatal period (0-2 weeks)

Puppies are born with the ability to taste and touch at this stage and that about it. They’re most influenced by their mother and siblings at this stage and are learning simple social skills and coordination. Most importantly, they want to eat… a lot. Puppies require milk from their mother about every two hours at this age.

Stage two: Transitional period (2-4 weeks)

At this stage, the puppies start to open their eyes, stand up and walk, their teeth start coming in and they’ll even wag their tails and start to bark. By the end of this stage, they should be able to go see fairly well and relieve themselves on their own.

Stage three: Socialization period (4-12 weeks)

This is the most important time to start introducing your puppy to other people and dogs. From 5 to 7 weeks, puppies start to enjoy playtime and exploring their surroundings. Having good experiences at this stage will play a large role in how your puppy continues to interact. Even though they’ll be influenced by humans, they’ll still need to remain with their mother and siblings until at least 8 weeks to learn things like inhibited biting and other social cues.

By about 7 to 8 weeks, you can start to teach your puppy house training and from 9 to 12 weeks, they enter the training “golden time” because your puppy is actively working on social skills and paying attention to both littermates and humans.

Stage four: Ranking period (3-6 months)

This stage is very similar to “elementary school age” in kids. Just like kids, dogs at this age are influenced by their playmates, both dogs and humans. Your pup will start to understand the use of ranking in terms of submission and dominance. Teething and chewing issues tend to happen around this age as well.

Stage five: Adolescence

Your puppy is now starting to understand that it belongs to a pack (which includes humans and dogs) and that its behaviour is influenced by this group. This is normally when your pup will start to challenge you more and explore dominant roles in the pack.

Dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered will also start exhibiting sexual behaviour around this time and the second stage of chewing will likely begin around 7 to 9 months.

It’s easier to understand how to deal with your puppy when you know exactly what stage they’re in regarding their development. The most important thing is to remember to be patient with your pup. It takes time to learn the rules of the house and how to interact with different things.

Cute Puppy
The 5 stages of puppy development

If you’re having trouble with your puppy and need some advice, please don’t hesitate to send me a message or share this with someone you know that might need a hand with their puppy!

African Wild Dogs

Also known as the painted dog, are one of the most endangered species in Africa. With only about 5,000 individuals left, it’s more important than ever to help protect these beautiful animals.

The main threats to the Wild Dogs is habitat loss and human conflict. Many farmers are frustrated due to wild dogs at times hunting their livestock. Unfortunately, to many people, the culture has turned into “the only good wild dog is a dead wild dog” which means many of them will be shot on sight.

The amazing activists in Naankuse are working on changing the culture around these painted dogs and other big predators. They work with farmers to use humane and more reliable tactics for protecting livestock. They’re also working on educating the public about why these animals are so important for the ecosystem and how we can learn to live alongside them.

African Wild Dogs are also one of the most successful hunters in the world with more than 60% of their hunts resulting in a kill, sometimes even up to 90%!

They are incredibly social and communicate through body language and vocal cues. The hierarchy of the pack is also quite interesting as it’s dominated by a matriarchal female who has sole breeding rights. This may be attributing to why it is difficult to bring the population of dogs up to a more sustainable level.

One of the main reasons I traveled to Namibia, Africa was to see these beautiful animals before they’re gone. My hope is that the people of Naankuse wildlife sanctuary and others like them can help bring the painted dog back from the brink of extinction and help change the perspective of the people living alongside them. Hopefully, we can continue to have Wild Dogs long into our future!

Check out some videos below!