We’ve all seen that “guilty” look when our dog does something we’re not happy about. Tail tucked, head down, and that pleading look that says “I know I messed up, please forgive me”.
Dogs understand human behavior and they do have emotions of their own. But do dogs really feel guilty? And can they say sorry to us?
Find out how dogs can communicate what they are feeling when they do something they know is wrong, and what it looks like when your dog is trying to apologize to you.
Do Dogs Apologize?
Yes, dogs do apologize, to humans and to other dogs.
It’s just a matter of understanding your dog’s behavior to see when and how they do it.
According to research, a dog’s brain can understand more than 150 words. They can also count, and their cognitive understanding is similar to that of a two-year-old.
But it all depends on each individual dog. Just like humans, each dog is different and unique in their own way.
Some dogs are good at identifying social situations, while others are better at understanding words.
Some are good at problem-solving – or your dog may have completely different cognitive skills.
But all dogs understand when they have done something wrong.
Research by Nathan Lents PhD, a professor of molecular biology at the City University of New York, shows that dogs do understand the concept of guilt and they communicate it with body language.
That “guilty look” that dogs show us, head bowed and tail tucked, is also known as the “apology bow”. And it is something they inherited from their wolf ancestors.
“In wolves, juveniles first begin to display the apology bow as they begin their social integration.”
This “apology bow” mimics submissive behavior. And according to Lent they are the same.
“This action is a “borrowed signal” because it can mean different things in different contexts. In a sense, an apology is indeed an expression of submission. “I was wrong; you were right.” Nothing could be more submissive than that.”
For us, guilt and apologies go hand in hand. And so for our pups, who are such an integral part of our family, we like to think they understand when they have done wrong, and they can say sorry to us.
How Do Dogs Say Sorry?
Dogs apologize using body language.
Dogs use their body and actions to indicate how they are feeling and what they want to “say” to us.
It is up to us to be able to read, recognize, and understand their body language to know when they are trying to tell us something.
We all know what “I’m guilty” looks like, but what does “I’m sorry” look like?
Signs That Show Your Dog Is Apologizing
There are some tell-tale signs to look out for when your dog is saying sorry to you.
It usually includes one, or a combination of the following:
- hanging head
- tail tucked between legs
- droopy or flattened ears
- wide eyes
- cowering or hunched posture
- licking you
- avoiding eye contact
While these are also some of the same expressions your dog exhibits when they feel fear and stress, context and your own knowledge of your dog’s behavior will help you understand what they are saying.
We are still unsure whether dogs actually feel bad about breaking the rules or if they’re simply reacting to our speech and body language.
What dogs do understand, however, is our body language, based on their past interactions with us.
For instance, if you have previously scolded your dog because they did something wrong, they will take your body language and speech at that moment, and associate it with “wrongdoings.”
If you tell your dog to “leave it,” “stop,” and “no,” they usually understand these words, and will avoid doing that particular behavior in the future.
This is why training your dog is extremely important. Training your pup includes teaching them correct behavior, and understanding commands like “stop,” and “no.”
Learning more about your dog’s body language can help you better understand your dog and enhance your training sessions.
How Do Dogs Apologize to Other Dogs?
If you live in a multiple dog household, you know well that conflicts between other dogs are rare. Dogs are social creatures, and they would rather play than fight.
However, they do happen. Most of the time, dog conflicts arise from the following scenarios:
- tense environment.
Unfortunately, there is not enough research yet to determine how dogs apologize to other dogs.
There is, however, research conducted to determine reconciliation between dogs after a fight. The researchers suggest that there is reconciliation seen post conflict between dogs.
This reconciliation is initiated by both victims and aggressors.
To answer this question, we have gone beyond science and asked dog owners how their furry pups make up after a fight.
One dog owner said that he would notice his dogs “kiss” (or lick, in dog language) after a fight. Licking is a sign of affection to dogs.
Another mentioned that her dogs would separate and avoid each other for a few days after a fight.
Again, this all boils down to each individual dog’s behavior.
It is important to be cautious when dogs are fighting. Here are some things to keep in mind for when your dogs fight.
- First, and most important, proceed with caution. Do not try to come between them. When dogs are in “fight mode,” they can be very aggressive. In some instances, stopping a fight between dogs results in an owner getting bitten.
- Try distracting them from a distance with a loud noise or spraying them with water.
- If that doesn’t work, you can try to use an object to separate the dogs. Make sure it is something that keeps you at a distance, like a blanket, a laundry basket, or a broom.
- As soon as your dogs separate from each other, put them in a separate room or crates. Do not let them out to see each other, even when they do calm down.
- Check your dogs for any injuries. If you see any injuries, contact your vet immediately.
- Try to determine the cause of the fight and, if possible, correct their behavior before allowing them back together.
Lastly, study your dogs’ behavior to avoid fights breaking out in the future. Prevention is always better.
How Do Dogs Say Sorry to Humans?
As previously mentioned, dogs cannot use speech to tell us they’re sorry. Instead, they use body language.
Some of the most common ways your dog apologizes are by tucking their tail between their eyes, and looking away or down. The “guilty” look.
They are also known to use their famous “puppy dog eyes” when they sense that you are upset.
In some instances, your furbaby may also stop or reduce panting when they are saying sorry.
You may also notice that their ears will be lowered or droopy. Or they may bow their head towards you.
Another adorable way your dog apologizes is by hiding their face with their paws.
If your fur baby notices that you haven’t accepted their apology, or are still upset, they may up the ante.
You may notice them climb into your lap for a cuddle or start licking you.
Your pup may also follow up on their adorable apology by bringing you little gifts of their toys, clothes, or even your own shoes.
Or maybe your dog is so in tune with you that they can say sorry with a simple gesture and a wink. Just like this bulldog with the cutest apology.
Do Dogs Know When They’ve Done Something Wrong?
Most dog owners will agree that dogs can sense our displeasure. But whether or not they’re capable of understanding what they did wrong and how they see it is a tricky question.
Our dogs do not have the same moral code as humans. They might not regard it as wrong if they pee inside, or chew our shoes. At least not until they see our reaction.
Again, this comes down to the importance of training. For instance, if you’ve trained them in the correct behavior, they will perceive peeing indoors or chewing your shoe as wrong.
In cases like these, you may see your dog acting guilty as soon as you catch them in the act of doing something they perceive as “wrong.”
If they don’t recognize the inappropriate behavior, they may still apologize if they notice you are displeased or furious with them.
Find out more about how to let your dog know they’ve done something wrong.
Do Dogs Cry?
Now, you may be wondering why “crying” is not included in the signs we mentioned above.
This is a little bit tricky to answer. Yes, dogs cry – meaning they shed tears.
However, dogs do not cry because of their feelings. They can shed tears, but they don’t actually cry because they feel bad or sad.
Their tears are a reaction to something else, like allergies, dirt in their eyes, or some kind of eye infection. If your dog is shedding tears you should find out why.
When your dog is feeling bad, they will verbally cry in the form of a whimper or whine to let us know.
Find out what dogs dream about when they cry.
Dogs Have the Cutest Apologies
Science research or not, dog owners know that their dogs do apologize in the cutest ways.
And who can resist their adorable eyes when they’re saying sorry, right? We know we can’t!
The next time your dog does something wrong, remember the signs above to see if they’re apologizing.