We all know the drill: Come home to find the dog has chewed up your favorite shoes, unleash a string of “bad dog!” admonishments, watch his face drop and tail tuck between his legs, take pleasure in a successful show of canine discipline.
But it turns out barking at the barker isn’t really accomplishing anything, and it’s certainly not making him feel ashamed or teaching him a lesson. Animal behaviorists say dogs actually lack the ability to feel shame altogether, the Associated Press reports. Your dog doesn’t remember what he did wrong hours before, and that droopy look is just him responding to your flash of anger.
“Just get over it and remind yourself not to put temptation in the way next time,” Dr. Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, told the AP.
In one 2009 study that sought to examine the so-called “guilty dog look,” dogs were videotaped as their owners instructed them not to eat a treat then left the room. Some dogs succumbed to temptation and some didn’t, some owners knew and some didn’t, but “the look” was strongly tied to the owner’s actions—not the dog’s.
“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,” Alexandra Horowitz, who conducted the study and wrote Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, told the AP. “It wasn’t ‘guilt’ but a reaction to the owner that prompted the look.
In other words, don’t leave those shoes out in the first place, and if you do, save the barking for the creature with four legs.