What Really Prompts The Dog’s “Guilty Look”
Research shows that humans tend to interpret animal behavior in human terms. The human tendency to attribute a “guilty look” to a dog stems from the person’s belief that the dog has done something it shouldn’t have, and it has little to do with whether or not the dog committed the actual behavior.
For this study, dog owners left the room after commanding their dogs not to eat a treat. When the owners were out of the room, some dogs were given the forbidden treats and some were not, though in all cases the owners were told their dogs had eaten the treat.
According to Horowitz, dogs looked the most guilty if they were scolded by their owners for eating the treat, whether they had eaten it or not. Consequently, the guilty look seems to be a response to the owner’s behavior rather than “guilt” associated with consciousness of a misdeed, demonstrating the human tendency to associate human characteristics with animals.