Please note that some posts contains affiliate links & I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links Find out More

Why Dogs Look Guilty: Do Dogs Feel Guilty or Embarrassed?

by | Sep 21, 2023 | Dog Training & Care | 2 comments

74% of dog parents believe their dogs feel guilt based on their dog’s “guilty” body language after their rule-breaking – but is it correct?

Here’s what the science tells us:

  • Dogs do feel emotions and some researchers believe dogs have the mental and emotional development of about a 2-year-old human.
  • Evidence shows that canines feel primary emotions (fear, anger, love, happiness).
  • Research cannot confirm if dogs feel secondary emotions like jealousy, shame and guilt.
  • But it’s still up in the air if dog’s do indeed feel guilty.

why dogs look guilty

Why Does My Dog Look Guilty?

When your dog meets you at the door, head low with ears slicked back and eyes averted, is that a canine apology? Does your dog look guilty? The behaviors certainly mimic what humans associate with feeling shame or apology. We know dogs can feel grief, but whether guilty behavior accurately reflects the dog’s true feelings is open to debate.

why dogs act guilty

Not all dogs “act” guilty, though. I don’t think my Magical-Dawg has ever felt the least bit apologetic about swiping the cat food, or chewing up something he shouldn’t. Other dogs, though, slink around the house every time owners come home, prompting you to ask (with an appropriate accusing tone of voice),

“What did you do?”

That makes apology-pup act even more guilty, while you search the house for whatever the miscreant has done. When dogs learn you get upset if they scatter the garbage, they theoretically may “act guilty” after such behavior and tell on themselves even before you know something has happened. That’s one explanation, anyway, but honestly, I don’t buy it.

Dogs show these same apologetic behaviors when they’ve done nothing wrong. What’s up with that? Learn about top dog behaviors here.

why do dogs look guilty

Teaching Bad Associations

We often teach dogs to act guilty as a default behavior. We don’t mean to do it, but dogs pay attention to events and consequences. She learns to apologize when you give her certain cues, or she recognizes a routine that has a predictable outcome. Here’s what happens.

You’ve returned home and found dog-damage. Fair enough. But thereafter, you return home EXPECTING to find dog-damage. As a result, your dog associates your homecoming with these intimidating human behaviors:

  • Accusatory tone of voice
  • Looming posture
  • Heavy footfalls
  • Strong eye contact

why dogs act guilty when they do something wrong

Calming Signals

When dogs feel anxious, they use behaviors to diffuse the threat that they feel. These behaviors may look like they feel contrite, when actually your dog simply wants you to stop shouting and stomping around the house. She may have done nothing wrong. And, if she chewed up the sofa cushion hours before, your dog may not even recognize THAT’S what has you upset. Nope, she just goes through the motions of what diffuses potential aggression. Shy and anxious dogs especially may associate your displeasure with a potential attack—how scary (and sad) is that?

why dogs act guilty

Dogs do this with other threatening dogs, too, to tell them, “I am no threat, and you’re the boss of me!” They’re called appeasement gestures, sometimes called calming signals, and often include:

  • Slicks his ears down
  • Licks lips
  • Yawns
  • Crouches low to ground
  • Grovels on the floor
  • Rolls over
  • Wets—(submissive urination)

why dogs act guilty

Nobody knows for sure if dogs feel guilt, or simply go through the motions. But it’s clear that our dogs do pay exquisite attention to their human’s behavior and emotions, and react accordingly to make us feel better and diffuse our upset feelings. How cool is that?! It’s up to us, as caring and savvy pet parents, to do the same for the fur-kids that we love.

While we still don’t know for sure if dogs feel sorry for what they’ve done, plenty of humans feel guilty for yelling, scolding or being angry with their dog. Do you ever feel guilty about what you did while parenting your pet? You’re not the only one.

What About Cats?

Like dogs, cats can definitely look guilty, but more research is needed to know for sure. What we do know—cats are wired to follow their instincts. Their cower might be a fear response to your yelling (not guilt for doing something wrong) or they might fight with a new cat in the household to establish hierarchy (not because they’re jealous).

If you’re dealing with challenging pet behavior, be sure to visit the veterinarian asap to rule out any underlying health issue.

YouTube Button

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!



  1. Frank

    I always love the photos that are part of the information.

    • Amy Shojai

      That’s a fun part, finding great pictures.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Recent Posts

Update on Cyprus Cats: New FIP Strain Identified

This past summer I reported on the apparent FIP outbreak among cats on the island of Cyprus. As thousands of cats quickly sickened and died from signs of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), experts puzzled over why. While the feline-specific illness tragically kills most infected cats (if not given expensive hard-to-access treatment), pockets of “outbreaks” had previously been limited to handfuls of cats in cattery or shelter population.

But in Cyprus, things changed. Here’s the update…stranger than fiction, but true.

How To Give Pets As Gifts

Giving pets as gifts prompts discussions every time the subject comes up. Most recently, we got our “gift puppy” and “gift kitten” when they adopted us, and we’re so glad Karma-Kat and Shadow-Pup are part of our holidays. But for many folks, this year means a new puppy or new kitten for Christmas. Learn how to gift pets–and please share your experiences in the comments!

The professionals used to say that the holidays were a TERRIBLE time to get a new pet–that impulse adoptions could leave the cat or dog without a home after the cute-holiday-thrills wore off. More recently, though, the ASPCA conducted some surveys and discovered that when done properly, these adoptions can be lasting, loving adoptions. So I had to re-think my advice.

Holidays tend to be hectic times when normal routines go out the window. Whether a baby, adult, or senior rescue cat or dog, new animals need the stability of knowing what to expect. In fact, some holiday schedules may allow you to be home more during this time to help the new kitty or pooch adjust.

Holiday pets take more work, true. But just think: you’re not only giving the pet to a person—you’re giving a special human to a waiting cat or dog, a fur-kid hungry for a loving, permanent home. Happy holidays, indeed!

Mystery Canine Respiratory Disease? What We Know

Each fall and winter heralds a rise in respiratory illnesses in people–and also in dogs. Like humans, dogs can contract a number of hacking, wheezing, coughing, yucky illnesses that make them feel bad. Canine respiratory diseases get lumped together as canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC). These are a constellation of different illnesses resulting from viral, fungal, or bacterial infections.

One of the most common, kennel cough, spreads easily from dog to dog. It gets its name because dogs housed closely together in kennels, boarding facilities, shelters, and similar places provide the perfect transmission opportunity. But recently, an apparent increase in dog respiratory disease has owners, and many vets concerned.

13 Pet Holiday Dangers to Avoid: How to Keep Cats & Dogs Safe

I write about pet holiday dangers every year. This listicle (and a fun infographic at the bottom) offers more than a dozen problems. I’ve included links to more detailed information for those wanting a deeper dive on all the must-knows for pet holiday safety!

Merry Cat-Mas & Doggy Ho-Ho-Ho! Here’s How to Create a Tree for the Pets

Have you decked the halls yet with your howl-iday decor? What do the pets think? Have they joined in the spirit of ho-ho-ho and wreaked havoc? Or do they ignore the festivities?

The Christmas tree might as well be an early holiday gift to your cats and dogs. Pets can’t resist the urge to sniff, claw, water—and scale the branches to reach the highest possible perch. Don’t blame your cat or dog. It’s normal for cats to compete for the top spot (literally and figuratively) to secure their place in kitty society, and dogs may want to “mark” the convenient indoor doggy signpost.

Protect your precious memories by pet-proofing to prevent breakage (yes, this happened to me!) And give your pets something “legal” to enjoy. Here’s how to create pet safe holiday fun for cats and dogs.

Playing Around…in SISTER ACT Musical!

From time to time, I’m blessed to participate in the local community theater productions. Sometimes, that means playing cello or keyboard in the loft, and other times, onstage. This month, I’m “playing around” as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours, a nun in SISTER ACT musical. We open Friday December 1 and run three weekends (Thursday-Sunday matinee) through December 17th.

Cat Books Sale: “When you get a cat, there should be 4 requirements by law:

I was born to love pets & spread JOY! My books bring smiles, save lives, and reduce vet bills. So I put ALL MY CAT BOOKS ON SALE…cuz maybe you’ll want to “adopt” more of my 35+ award-winning pet books or share the purr-fect love with other pet lovers.

You can get ’em for full price on Amazon, BUT…

Dog Books Sale: “One of the best I have read…”

I was born to love pets & spread JOY! My books bring smiles, save lives, and reduce vet bills. So I put ALL MY DOG BOOKS ON SALE…cuz maybe you’ll want to “adopt” more of my 35+ award-winning pet books or share the purr-fect love with other pet lovers.

You can get ’em for full price on Amazon, BUT…

Counting Thanksgiving Blessings, the Pet Writer Way in 2023

Time for my annual Count My Blessings post. The past year has meant change, change, and more change, and that’s good and also challenging. But some things never change…I’m thankful to you—yes, those who read this blog, the cat book lovers, and the dog book lovers, and folks who have “adopted” my thriller series. And those who offered awesome applause and support any of the other venues mentioned…

7 Tips How to Prepare Cats, Dogs, and People for Holiday Visits

How to Prepare Cats, Dogs, and People for Holiday Visits

Holiday celebrations include visiting family and friends. It also means keeping pets safe during the holidays. Since we consider cats and dogs part of the family, pet holiday visits require special preparations. Changes to routine can increase fear, anxiety, and stress in everyone, and especially our pets. Hitting the road also raises stress levels, so unless your pets adore car travel, prepare with advice in this article. Here are some tips for reducing the angst once you arrive, so that everyone enjoys family pet holiday visits.

Visit Amy's Website

Amy Shojai CACB is an award winning author.  You can find all her publications and book her to speak via her website. 

On Demand Writer Coaching is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to