Greyt Inspirations Life

A little about our life, our business and our pets.

Do dogs feel regret?


She looks like she's sorry but is this an act?

She looks like she's sorry but is this an act?

There’s a great article in the New York Times this week asking, “In That Tucked Tail, Real Pangs of Regret?”  The article is about some new research that indicates that monkeys actually do feel what we would call regret when they make “wrong” choices in experiments.



This leads the author to some interesting theorizing such as whether or not dogs feel regret:


No one knows, of course, exactly how this sense of regret affects an animal emotionally. When we see a dog slouching and bowing, we like to assume he’s suffering the way we do after a faux pas, but maybe he’s just sending a useful signal: I messed up…


Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Colorado, says he’s convinced that animals feel emotional pain for their mistakes and missed opportunities. In “Wild Justice,” a new book he wrote with the philosopher Jessica Pierce, Dr. Bekoff reports on thousands of hours of observation of coyotes in the wild as well as free-running domesticated dogs.


When a coyote recoiled after being bitten too hard while playing, the offending coyote would promptly bow to acknowledge the mistake, Dr. Bekoff said. If a coyote was shunned for playing unfairly, he would slouch around with his ears slightly back, head cocked and tail down, tentatively approaching and then withdrawing from the other animals. Dr. Bekoff said the apologetic coyotes reminded him of the unpopular animals skulking at the perimeter of a dog park.


“These animals are not as emotionally sophisticated as humans, but they have to know what’s right and wrong because it’s the only way their social groups can work,” he said. “Regret is essential, especially in the wild. Humans are very forgiving to their pets, but if a coyote in the wild gets a reputation as a cheater, he’s ignored or ostracized, and he ends up leaving the group.” Once the coyote is on his own, Dr. Bekoff discovered, the coyote’s risk of dying young rises fourfold.


After living with dogs most of my life and seeing how they react at different times, I think they do feel regret for things.  I don’t know if a dog always knows what he’s done wrong, but I think that a dog can feel very very sorry for making you unhappy.  They definitely know when they have done something wrong, even if they may not completely know why it makes you unhappy.  Then they will show all of the body language that we recognize as saying, “Hey, I’m really sorry.  Please don’t be mad at me.”


I remember plenty of occasions when I’ve come home and found my living room torn up because there was some kind of wild dog party while I was gone.  As soon as I walked in the door I would see the dogs looking at each other like, “Uh oh.  She’s home.”  I didn’t have to say a word.  One or two of the dogs would come over to me looking all pitiful and sorry.  The funniest times are when I walk in and something’s going on and there’s one dog dancing around looking at me like, “I didn’t do it!  I told them not to do it!  It wasn’t me!”  LOL


Now, I don’t know why it’s so easy for us to read our dogs’ body language, but I think that they must have feelings very much like ours for us to be able to interpret their actions this way.  I don’t think we are completely wrong about how they act and feel and why they do the things they do.


What do you think?  Do dogs feel regret?  When your dog does something wrong is he really sorry about it or not? Or are they just playing us?  Do they know how to make the right sad faces to get us to forgive them? Is it all an act?




June 4, 2009 - Posted by | dogs, Pets | , , , ,

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