Dogs don’t really feel any shame
The guilty looks are more a reaction to owner’s outrage, experts say
LOSANGELES — The next time you start shaking your finger and shouting “Shame on you!” because your dog chewed up your favourite fuzzy slippers, just remember that no matter how guilty your dog looks, it doesn’t know what your rant is about.
Behaviourists insist dogs lack shame. The guilty look — head cowered, ears back, eyes droopy — is a reaction to the tantrum you are throwing now over the damage they did hours earlier.
“Just get over it and remind yourself not to put temptation in the way next time,” said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviourists.
But scientific findings haven’t put a dent in the popularity of online dog shaming sites like Dogshaming.com and Shameyourpet.com, or videos like those posted on Youtube.com/ crackrockcandy.
In the photos and videos, dogs wear humorous written “confessions” and often are surrounded by the remnants of their misdeeds. There is no question that in some photos, they look guilty of eating, drinking, chewing, licking or destroying something they shouldn’t have.
Dogshaming.com was the first and is among the most popular sites. Since Pascale Lemire started it in August 2012, it has received more than 58 million page views and more than 65,000 submissions. A submission has to come with a photo showing the dog’s guilty look.
Lemire, who lives in Vancouver, also published a book called Dog Shaming, which hit the New York Times bestseller list in January.
“I don’t think dogs actually feel shame,” Lemire said. “I think they know how to placate us with this sad puppy-dog look that makes us think they’re ashamed of what they’ve done. My guess is that their thinking is: ‘Oh man, my owner is super mad about something, but I don’t know what, but he seems to calm down when I give him the sad face, so let’s try that again.”’
She thinks the online dog shaming memes are all in good fun.
“People come for a laugh and camaraderie,” Lemire said. “They see that their dog isn’t the only one who does awful things. People don’t shame their dogs out of anger, they do it out of love.”
Another dog owner helped get celebrities into the trend. In late 2011, Jeremy Lakaszcyck of Boston started putting shaming videos of his lemon beagle, Maymo, on YouTube. Four months later, Ellen DeGeneres ran one of them on her show.