Dog Shaming- Why this is just not Cool

One of my major gripes is Dog Shaming photos. Why? What harm is it? Dogs don’t care, do they?

First we need to talk about guilt. Do dogs feel guilt? The short answer is, ”No.” The long answer is much more complicated and a little difficult for most owners to understand. But I will try and explain it as best I can.

guilt  (glt)n.
2.

a. Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong.
b. Self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing.tr.v. shamed, sham·ing, shames

1. To cause to feel shame; put to shame.
2. To bring dishonour or disgrace on.
3. To disgrace by surpassing.

4. To force by making ashamed:

So can dogs be remorseful? Are they unaware of their inadequacy or wrongdoing? I often hear people say things like ”She knew what she was doing, she knew!” I want to challenge that thinking. Did she know or did she react? These are two different things, that will look the same to us, but feel very different to the dog.

Scenario 1.
Bella gets into the rubbish can and spreads it all over the house > 30mins passes > owner discovers mess> owner points at mess> owner scolds Bella > Bella notes owner is mad > Bella processes this> she decides she done wrong by making the mess the owner is pointing at > Bella ”looks guilty”

or

Bella gets into the rubbish can and spreads it all over the house > 30mins passes > owner discovers mess>owner points at mess> owner scolds Bella > Bella hears owner’s tone and sees tense body language> Bella processes and feels scared> Bella ”looks guilty”

Scenario 2.
Fido chews a shoe> owner discovers immediately> owner scolds Fido> Fido processes this and knows owner is mad> Fido knows this was wrong > Fido feels guilty

or

Fido chews a shoe> owner discovers immediately> owner scolds Fido> Fido hears owner’s tone and sees tense body language> Fido processes this and feels scared > Fido ”Looks Guilty”

As you can see, both interpretations end up with the same result. So how do we know what is really going on? As a person who can read canine body language, a dog that looks guilty, looks the same as one who is scared to me. So how do I tell the difference? I can’t. My guess is that ”guilt” does not exist, and a lot of professionals trained in body language would agree with me. But there is no way to be sure. The reason I don’t believe guilt exists in the canine world is that no one has presented me with any evidence to prove this. However there is of course no doubt in anyone’s mind that all living creatures do in fact feel fear. Life itself depends on flight/fight, which is essentially fear.

Ok, lets take a look at some shaming photos

Annie_Setter-e1389732344569-637x852

Wide eyes, pinned ears, tense brow, tense body, tight mouth
This equates to fear

image266-e1384712207830-637x849

Wide eyes, pinned ears and tight commissures (mouth)
This equates to fear

To me the scenario of a dog being able to process the higher emotion of guilt is a far stretch. When you think about guilt, it really feels like an emotion that stems from an ethical point of view. If I feel guilty for doing wrong by someone, its because I care about what they think, I care about their feelings, I can empathise. I don’t believe that dogs are capable of empathy, their place in our world is simply not complicated enough. It’s a higher level of thought processing, that requires a much more in depth view of the world socially and cognitively. It  also requires a higher level of 2 way communication between human and dog. If dogs were getting around caring so much about what humans thought of them, they wouldn’t be dogs and provide us the simple companionship that makes them so special. We often want our dogs to be more human, because sometimes it seems they are so close. But, in fact, we really shouldn’t want this, they are perfect they way they are.

So, if they are showing fear in shaming photos, what is the problem with that? Dogs live in the moment, and I can guarantee you, by the time you find the naughty dog, get the camera and take the photo, they don’t have a clue what the problem is anymore! When training with positive reinforcement you have 1-2secs to reward the desired behaviour for it to work. The same applies to any correction you might want to apply, which is, essentially what is happening in shaming photos. I personally don’t believe in making a dog fearful to teach it anything. There are many ways you can teach your dog to behave appropriately without making them fearful. So why do it?

Ok, so what if I and a whole lot of other people are wrong and dogs do indeed possess the ability to feel guilt? My answer is simple, why do we need to shame our dogs? I still don’t think it’s funny, because it’s not worth the risk either. I think it’s safer to err on the side of caution. Because, if an expert can’t tell the difference between fear and guilt, nor I, I doubt any owner can. If you can, I’d love to chat!

What do you regard as most humane? To spare someone shame.
Friedrich Nietzsche

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