So THAT's How To Tell If Your Dog Is Actually Guilty AF

They are man’s best friends after all, and they deserve to have their feelings and emotions recognised and dealt with.
Cavan Images / Annick Paradis via Getty Images

We’ve seen the TikToks again and again: dogs snooping around a ripped-apart book, torn clothing or a destroyed sofa cushion with squinted eyes, a frantically wagging tail and the inability to look their owner in the eye. It’s one of the best genres on the platform: guilty dog videos.

While the more extreme cases may make for gold-tier social media content, what are the signs we can use to spot feelings of guilt and shame in our own four-legged friends day-to-day – and is there anything we can do about it? They are man’s best friends after all, and they deserve to have their feelings and emotions recognised and dealt with.

“Understanding a dog’s emotions can be a bit complex since they don’t experience feelings in the same way we do,” says veterinary surgeon Dr. Nick Horniman MRCVS. “But there are clear behaviours that may suggest a dog is feeling guilty or anxious.”

Here are his three signs to look out for.


“If your dog has done something they might perceive to be wrong, they might avoid making eye contact with you. This can be a sign of submission rather than guilt, with the dog trying to show you that they are not a threat.”

Submissive posture

“A guilty dog may display submissive body language, such as cowering, tucking their tail between their legs, or flattening their ears against their head. This can also be a way for them to communicate that they’re not a thread and are trying to appease you.”


“Lastly, some dogs might hide or go to a secluded area after they do something they shouldn’t have. This behaviour can be related to a sense of unease – while they may not feel guilt as humans do, dogs are very protective and can pick up on when their owners feel upset or angry, which is what may trigger this behaviour.”

Dog anxiety expert Yasmin El-Saie explains that the behaviours dogs display in association with guilt link back to how they experience feelings of fear.

“Guilt implies they know they did something wrong so they don’t want to be punished, and they definitely don’t want to upset you, as they love you beyond all!” she explains.

For Dr. Horniman, while these viral videos may show the more peculiar (and funnier) signs of dog guilt, they’re not particularly severe.

“More extreme behaviours that could be caused by guilt would be engaging in destructive behaviour in front of the owner, or even urinating or defecating indoors. Both of these behaviours would indicate the dog is going through more severe emotional distress,” he adds.

How should we react?

“If your dog has done something wrong and is showing signs of feeling guilty, I’d advise against punishing or scolding them – it’s much more productive to focus on positive reinforcement and preventive measures,” Dr. Horniman says, and El-Saie agrees.

“I believe it is possible to build up communication with your dog to a point where reprimanding can be a conversation rather than scolding. You can show your guilty dog what they’ve done and tell them in a firm but kind voice that this is a no,” she continues.

“However, I would look into the reason as to why your dog is showing the naughty behaviour in the first place. Maybe your dog is bored, hasn’t had enough exercise, has been left alone for too long, wants attention, is stressed or is just a very playful pup. I’d look at what I could change and do differently to see how my dog responds. We need to set them up to succeed rather than fail.”