Every dog person has observed and struggled to resist the phenomena of “puppy dog eyes.” When a dog has acted up, they typically appear to have this look about them. It’s as if they feel guilty for whatever naughty acts they have done. However, in the article “Puppy-Dog Eyes of Science,” John Hartigan suggests that the look of guilt is just an example of humans anthropomorphizing. He argues that humans want to believe that their dog is capable of feeling shame for the sake of their relationships with their dogs. Another explanation may be that dogs might have developed this “guilty look” as a result of evolution. Since eye contact is a large part of how humans communicate and bond with each other, dogs may have mimicked this behavior in order to improve their relationship with humans. In other words, there is a possibility that dogs have evolved to use eye contact more in order to communicate better with humans. There may also be a chemical reason why humans just can’t resist those big puppy dog eyes. When dogs and humans look into each other’s eyes oxytocin, a feel good chemical is released. This reaction that humans have when looking into a dog’s eyes is very similar to the reaction that parent’s have when they look into their child’s eyes. The article later references a study that compares the way dogs and wolves communicate through gazes and facial features. It was found that wolves have a more sophisticated means of communicating visually. This goes against the claim that dogs have developed the puppy dog look as a means of communicating with humans. Though this difference may be due to the fact dogs have reduced facial and body expressions than wolves do.
I would like to think that dogs do feel guilt. In my experience, owning two very mischievous dogs, I can’t help but feel they know when they’ve been bad and they feel guilt.