If you are a dog owner, chances are you have tripped over your pet or stepped on their paw or tail more than once. A trail of apologies will often follow suit after such an incident, with numerous owners left to wonder if the apologies make any difference.
According to recent research, dogs are more intelligent than we think and can even tell when something is done deliberately or when accidents happen. Below, we discuss whether or not dogs know we make mistakes and how to apologize.
Do Dogs Know We Make Mistakes?
According to research carried out by Gottingen University, dogs understand when something is done intentionally or by accident. This means that if you make a mistake, your dog knows that it was not intentional, an important discovery that will allow numerous dog owners to have peace of mind when they accidentally trip over their companions.
In the first part of the experiment, the experimenters intentionally withdrew the dog’s rewards, placing them far from their pet’s reach. In the subsequent tests, the experimenters accidentally dropped the reward, while in other instances, they could not pass the reward due to a physical barrier between themselves and the dog.
In the first condition, the dogs waited longer before approaching the reward while they also leaned towards appeasing behaviors like sitting or lying down. In the latter, where the experimenters accidentally dropped the treat or had physical barriers erected, the dogs identified the mistakes and approached the treats quicker than in the first scenario.
This showed that the dogs understood the different conditions, allowing researchers to pick out the intelligence displayed. The above also helped solidify other studies that stated that dogs could differentiate between happy and angry faces. Simply put, dogs can tell when you have accidentally harmed them, depending on your voice intonation and emotional reaction.
Do Dogs Understand When We Apologize?
While animal behaviorists are still trying to understand if dogs are capable of complex cognitive processing, it is safe to say that these pets understand basic emotions. As previously stated, dogs can tell when accidents happen by looking at their body language and how their owners act in various situations.
Unlike cats, dogs also tend to be highly social, a factor that helps them read social signals appropriately while also responding adequately to these cues. After numerous attempts to apologize, they will often reward you with a lick on your hand to show that they accept your apology. In reality, dogs also try to reconnect after they are involved in a fight with constant contact with other animals, often interpreted as their way of apologizing.
The above also applies to human-animal interaction, with most dog owners offering different gestures to show their apologies. Dogs will likely understand that you are trying to reconnect with them after you hurt them, with constant reassurance acting as a way to establish and express your bond. Take note that your gestures should lean towards calm and affectionate responses to show your dog that you are not angry with them.
Support will also be essential in this stage to ensure that you can reconnect after making your apology. Each dog will respond differently to apologies, with dog owners required to read their pet’s behavior appropriately. While some dogs perceive their owner bending down as a sign of affection, others are likely to consider this a threat. The former example will often be linked to dogs who seek comfort from their owners, while the latter may be associated with dogs who are still trying to get used to their new family setting or have experienced traumatic pasts.
Belly rubs can also signal different behavior, with dogs rolling over, either showing fear due to different reproach mechanisms, while others show acceptance of an apology. Due to these differences, make it a point to understand different gestures that your dog will offer to help you understand their body language in the event of an accident.
Do Dogs Know If You Accidentally Hurt Them?
If you are not looking at where you are going and accidentally trip over your dog more than once, you may wonder if your dog understands it was an accident. Depending on your reaction, dogs can tell if there was any ill intention. Due to their intuitive and intelligent nature, your dog will be able to pick up on certain body language traits.
This can be your facial expressions, the pitch in your voice, and any calm demeanor you portray. Reports also show that dogs have the mental capacity of a two-year-old child, meaning that they can recognize instances when you accidentally hurt them. While this will often differ based on the breed of dog you own, the majority fall in this gap and can tell when you are sorry for any unintentional harm caused.
If you also trip over them once in a while, they are also likely to tell you that it was just an accident. If this becomes a common occurrence, it can prove problematic, with most dogs staying away. To avoid this, ensure that you pay attention to where you are going. This will especially come in handy if you own smaller breeds of dogs that find it easy to get under your feet.
In addition to this, you can also get designated beds or mats where your dogs can lie down. Dogs with black fur will benefit from these as they are easy to trip or step on. Be mindful of your surroundings and check if your dog’s tail is in spaces such as cupboards, doors, or behind the wheels of your cars.
In numerous cases, what you do after you hurt them can also help in showing them that it was an accident. Most owners will often have different approaches to apologies, with the most notable being offering them affection. This can be through hugs or by giving them soothing remarks.
Do Dogs Forgive?
Dogs forgive people who have wronged them, but this will often not be in the same way that human beings do. Since their emotional capacity resembles that of a toddler, their emotions will also be simple, with the most common feelings being happiness, love, and fear. Dogs cannot feel or express complex emotions like shame or guilt, which is why they cannot forgive in the same way that a human being does.
Rather than reminiscing back on any harm you may have caused, your dog will often rely on pattern recognition to identify your behavior. Apologies and rewards help dogs get positive associations, allowing them to replace any pain with happiness. This helps them to live in the moment and forget or forgive any unintentional harm caused.
Every scenario is a fresh start for your dog, which is why pets rescued from abusive owners can forgive previous owners and interact better with new faces. Bad experiences will often be linked to specific circumstances. The benefit is that if you avoid such occurrences, your dog can live its life without remembering any previous harm caused.
Do Dogs Hold Grudges?
Your dog will, on occasion, get mischievous, requiring you to discipline it for the acts committed. Whether it is taking away their favorite treat or sending them away, you will likely get the squinty eyes or notice their lowered body and their tail.
These are just some signs that could show that your dog is displeased with you, with most owners taking these to be signs of a grudge. In reality, these may look like signs of resentment, but they are only signs of submission. They will only last as long as they are displayed, with your dog cheering him up within a few minutes.
Dog owners who spend the day away from their dogs may also get reports of a moppy temperament which, in contrast, clears away the moment you walk into your house. These are just some examples that show that dogs do not hold any grudges and that any resentment will often clear away at a moment’s notice.
Take note that while this may be a positive trait among dogs, they also tend to match your mood, meaning any signs of aggression, fear, or anger you show towards other humans or animals will also carry on to your dog. Dogs will often react according to your attitude, meaning any grudges they display to people who may have been hurtful in the past will usually come from their owner’s cue.
How Can I Get My Dog To Forgive Me?
Every dog will display different temperaments, meaning your approach to asking for forgiveness will also depend on what your dog likes. There are various ways that you can ask your dog for an apology, with examples of these being:
Apologizing at the Right Time
Rather than waiting for hours to apologize to your dog, doing it immediately after you hurt them or upset them will be a better alternative. Doing this will help them get the proper context for your apology instead of delayed apologies that will confuse them.
Limit Immediate Contact
While you will likely want to soothe your dog immediately because of upsetting them, try to refrain from any immediate contact. An action such as a hug can be perceived as a threat, resulting in more fear. Initiate communication without touching them and give your dog some space. By doing this, your pet will learn that it was an accident, allowing them to identify future apologies quickly.
Using Soothing Tones
Your voice will be one of the ways that your dog will use to identify whether you are sorry, acting as another way to deliver your apology appropriately. For this, consider using soothing tones. If you are angry, you will only frighten your dog further. If you have just stepped on their paw, try to get to their level and lower your tone. Use a soft and reassuring voice to keep them calm while checking if they are badly hurt. Ensure you maintain eye contact with occasional strokes, also going a long way in your apology.
Engage in Fun Activities
If you have spent a lot of time away from your dog and have not been giving them your attention, engaging in fun activities will be a worthy apology. Take your pet out for a walk or run if they love spending time in the outdoors. Playing a game of chase will also come in handy, helping you get more quality time together. You can also apologize while doing this, allowing you to show them that you care about them.
Avoid Giving Treats
While your first instinct will be to offer treats during your apology, this may end up sending mixed signals to your dog. Treats are often given to reward good behavior, with any rewards given during an apology likely to interfere with this pattern. Reserve the treats for instances when your dog deserves them, with verbal gestures being enough for your apology.