Dog's 'Guilty' Look Is All in Your Head

By Drew Nelles,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 12, 2009 2:41 PM CDT
Gallia, a Saint Bernard dog, right, is nuzzled by one of her six puppies at the Barry Foundation in Martigny, Switzerland, Thursday, June 4, 2009.   (AP Photo/KEYSTONE/Jean-Christophe Bott)
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(Newser) – You can tell when Rover’s misbehaved by that guilty look on his face, right? Ruff—er, wrong, researchers say. If owners believed their dogs had misbehaved, they projected that famed "guilty" expression onto the animals’ faces regardless of whether any rule-breaking had happened, a new study says. Any change in a dog’s expression is simply a reaction to the owner's scolding, the BBC reports.

In the study, owners were told—sometimes truthfully, sometimes not—that their dogs had stolen a forbidden treat. No matter what, the owners believed their dogs looked guilty. Some then punished their pets, prompting an "admonished" look in the dogs that people misinterpret as shame. Dogs don’t know they’ve broken the rules, the study concludes—they just know when their owners are angry.