Do Dogs Feel Remorse?

Anyone who has a dog will tell you that their dog knows when they have been bad.

The idea is that a dog knows when he has done something wrong. There are tales of an owner coming in the room and the dog automatically hiding under the couch or rolling over and showing belly in supplications of remorse.

But – do dogs feel remorse because they know they have messed up, or is it remorse because they think they are going to get in trouble?

I had a dog several years ago who insisted that her best pee spot was right in the middle of my (thank goodness terrazo’ed) living room. Then, when she saw me coming, she would scoot – she knew that as soon as I saw the puddle, my baffled roar would fill the room. She wanted to have nothing to do with that.

But though I ranted, her behavior didn’t change. Nope, she only became trained when I realized that she needed to pee far more often than I had thought and I put her out with enough frequency to really empty her bladder.

Dogs connect anger with trouble – after all, we do too. But dogs don’t connect anger with the idea that they then need to correct their future behavior. Nope. They connect that when they hear that gasp, that heavier footfall, that deep breath ready for an explosion they need to get away -- quickly.

Can they anticipate that once they’d done something that this will make you mad? Maybe. Not sure. I have friends that swear that their dog scoots before the front door is fully open when the dog, for example, has been spreading garbage nice and thin over the kitchen floor.

So, do dogs feel remorse? I believe the answer is yes. However, and more importantly, I observe dogs feeling remorse because they they think they are going to get in trouble, not because they truly understand their wrongdoing. This is key in correction!

The bottom line is that remorse is not a good training tool.

Training gets accomplished by:

1. Keen observation of your dog
2. A trainer that is calm and neutral.
3. Knowing what tools to use to correct a particular behavior.

That way, you really can correct poor behavior. Or even better, that way you can train your puppy right in the first place!

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