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The next time your dog chews up your homework or favorite t-shirt don't waste your energy admonishing him/her. That's because while it may seem sad and look at you with sorrowful puppy eyes and tail tucked between the legs, scientists say dogs have no idea what shame is.
This shocking revelation was made by Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a Professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine. While the animal behaviorist who has conducted several studies on dogs, doesn't reveal how she came to this conclusion, she does tell owners to 'get over it' and not succumb to the temptation to go crazy, when their pooches do something wrong. As for that sorry look? That according to her is something your dog has recognized as the only thing that seems to stop the rant. Hence whenever it starts, he/she automatically settles down with a sorry look.
In case you are a little skeptical, Dr. Beaver is not the only expert that has reached this conclusion. In 2009, Alexandra Horowitz, an Associate Professor of Psychology at New York's Barnard College, conducted a study on 14 dogs. She videotaped each of them on several occasions to see what they did after they were instructed not to eat a treat placed in front of them and left alone in the room. Some obeyed, while others devoured the forbidden food as soon as the owner left.
Yet all of them had the same look of shame when they were scolded by their owners. In her study entitled Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, she concluded that while dogs may feel some guilt, the 'look' that we humans associate with shame, is not when they are feeling it. They are just smart enough to know that it helps placate their owners and hence put it on, whenever they feel their wrath.
This knowledge is probably not going to stop most owners from getting upset when their dogs do something wrong. But it may at least take away some of the guilt they feel after they are done telling off their pet. Also, just because dogs fake this one emotion does not mean they are always lying. They are constantly trying to communicate with their owners, something the authors of National Geographic's new fun book - How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language, seem to have observed in great detail.
Resources: NDTV.com, npr.org