YouTube is full of ‘funny’ videos of guilty dogs. Full of them! It’s like people can’t get enough of dogs appearing to feel remorseful for a behaviour they carried out earlier in the day.
While I am NOT judging people for finding these videos funny when they don’t fully understand them, I AM here to explain these videos from the dogs point of view.
First and foremost, here comes one of the MOST important pieces of information that ALL dog owners need to know, but don’t. The THREE SECOND RULE.
There have been studies investigating how much time can pass between a dog doing a behaviour and the consequence of that behaviour occurring. We need to know this to know how to help dogs learn.
The studies have found that if the dog begins a behaviour and the instant they do it, a consequence happens then there is 100% association between ‘I put bum on floor so I got a treat’.
If the dog carries out a behaviour and 1 second later the consequence occurs there is a 60% association, “I put my bum on the floor and I think I got a treat for it”.
If the dog carries out a behaviour and 2 seconds later the consequence occurs there is 20% association “I think I might have gotten a treat for putting my bum on the floor”.
If the dog carried out a behaviour and 3 or more seconds later the consequence occurs there is NO association. “Hey, I just got a free treat!!”.
So, back to the videos. These videos of guilty dogs occur sometime after the behaviour. The owner returns home, dog says hi, then all of a sudden mum or dad has turned in to a scary monster for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON.
The behaviours they carry out, explained below, do not show guilt, but instead are the dogs attempt to say ‘please don’t hurt me’. The dog is learning that the human is completely unpredictable, will sometimes turn and behave in a threatening manner, and cannot be fully trusted.
Besides the fact that this is extremely unfair on the dog (look at the below video and imagine that is a three year old child showing the behaviours the dog shows), the human safety element needs to be remembered too. As the dog begins to learn that the human can be a scary threat we are increasing the possibility that the dog will be pushed too far and may bite. Their trust in the humans ability to protect them is damaged and the dog may learn to rely on themselves for protection.
Also, the dog may be intimidated by the adult and decide I cannot fight back because they are big and scary. However, the child in the home may watch mum and dad do this to their dog, then copy the behaviour. As the dog is less likely to be intimidated by the child they may return the challenge and again, a bite could occur.
Have a read of the below explanations of the dogs communication and please take a moment to think about what the dog is learning in these videos – also – DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME ;)
Head Turn – dog turns head away from stimulus it does not want to interact with – “I don’t see you”
Check In – Dog looks to the person with the camera for assistance. As dogs are an almost ‘manmade’ species they will look to humans for assistance when needed (hand reared wolves won’t)
Moon Crested Eyes – the whites of the dogs eyes are visible. This is a side effect of when dogs are in a heightened state. In this video it is likely to be due to attempting to turn its head away from the thing it is scared of (lady) while also trying to watch her actions in case she ‘attacks’.
Facial Tension – You can see that the muscles in the dogs head and face are tight, seen when dogs are stressed
Ears Back – Ears pinned back are a sign of avoidance and also a sign that they do not want to challenge or fight (often you will see ears back in a greeting too so the dog can communicate ‘hi, I’m not a threat’). In stressful experiences you will see ears back to show non challenging signals and also to listen for any potential additional threats approaching from behind.
Head lowered when turning toward lady. Attempting to appear small and vulnerable – “Please don’t hurt me”
Slow Movement. Dogs will do this when they want to be ‘invisible’ and not draw attention to themselves.
Tail Tuck. This dogs tail is not fully tucked, but hangs lower than normal carriage. This is a defensive sign, showing that the dog feels vulnerable.
Vigilance. The dog remains vigilant of the bread handler after it enters the bed – the dog will continue to watch anything that they perceive as a threat.