Where to hide the chocolate cake? Well, in her teeny tiny kitchen, my mom decided the best option–where her two black labs couldn’t get at it–would be inside the (cold) oven. So she hid the cake, went out and…well, you can guess what happened next. She returned to find two dogs rolling on the floor with apparent belly aches, ears back, eyes cast low. (Luckily they didn’t get really sick, because we all know that chocolate is bad for dogs.) She went to the kitchen–the oven door was closed, but the cake pan was still inside the oven, licked clean! How did those dogs accomplish that?

Sometimes when Kelly’s snitched a bit of my sandwich on the coffee table, or shredded a sock she found on the floor, she gives me that look. You know, that guilty look. Like when your puppy pees on the carpet and looks up at you with those BIG sad eyes. But can dogs actually feel guilt?

According to a study published in the July 2009 issue of Behavioural Processes, the answer is no.
In the study, 14 dogs were videotaped over a set of trials that included the opportunity for dogs to eat a treat when their owner left the room. In each case the owner had no idea if their dog actually ate the treat or not. Owners then were asked to view the dog’s expression and determine if it looked “guilty” or not. The researchers concluded no correlation between the assumed guilty look and the dog’s actions.

I guess this leads us to assume that the big sad eyes, the tail tucked between the legs, and the guilty expression, is more a reaction to our own words and expression when we catch our dog in a naughty act.

What I Learned from My Dog: Looks can be deceiving. Sometimes, we inaccurately read into situations with our own perceptions. Of course, we can’t help but let our perceptions play a part in what we observe. How does this effect the way you make judgments? Handle disagreements?