Do dogs hold a grudge after they are hurt?
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Do Dogs Hold Grudges After Being Hurt?

How do I know what my dog is thinking and do dogs hold grudges are two questions I am commonly asked. Feeling ill will or resentment from being insulted or hurt is called a grudge. Humans display strong feelings of anger and dislike for people who treat them poorly, but what about dogs? If they are hurt, do they harbor anger, resentment, and negative feelings in their canine psyche?

Yes, in some capacity, dogs remember something negative that caused them harm. Dogs growl at certain people, wag for others, and snarl at a dog who barked at them one time on a walk. Does it mean dogs hold a grudge? Not necessarily, but our canine friends do host a full range of emotions that keep cognitive researchers busy.

Dogs seem to live in the moment, and science supports this notion to a certain degree. Dogs don’t seem angry or give you the cold shoulder for leaving them alone all day. They celebrate your return as if you are royalty. In their eyes, you are a king or queen.

Whether dogs hold a grudge against people or other animals is a mystery, but behavioral research helps. Alexandra Horowitz, head of the Dog Cognition Lab in California, says the inability to read dogs’ emotions likely begins with our inability to understand our own emotions well. She feels humans grant dogs emotions but only of the human sort. Here’s what I learned about grudges, dogs, and the reality of it all.

Do Dogs Hold Grudges After Being Hurt?

Dogs remember things. Dogs are intelligent, loving, multifaceted beings with complex behaviors and thoughts. Horowitz calls this episodic memory, or the ability to remember specific events from their past. Much of what a dog remembers is dictated by their sense of smell.

In the same way dogs remember a smell, their future is in a breeze. This is how dogs know to alert you of someone or something (i.e. mailman, pizza delivery person) long before you see them. Can a dog remember a familiar scent where something hurtful or painful happened?

If you want to know how dogs actually “see” with their noses, keep reading and I’ll also show you a bonus video of how dogs can tell when you are mad, sad, happy, or annoyed. Dogs are fascinating!

Some dogs shiver and shake when going for a car ride. Other dogs exhibit fear at the vet’s office or grooming salon. Some pups don’t like what’s about to happen there, so can you blame them? While they likely aren’t holding a grudge against you for taking them to the vet, the groomer, or for a car ride, they remember things along the way.

As of this writing, it’s not crystal-clear what dogs think after being hurt. Psychology Today makes a strong point that nothing is lost by assuming dogs form and hold grudges just like people. However, there is no one universal dog. What upset Rocko may not bother Bootsy. Do dogs forgive and forget or hold onto bothersome feelings? That’s a canine mystery.

As a lifelong dog mom and pet journalist, I look to the dogs who are abused and neglected. Many of them still manage to merrily wag a tail at an approaching human. Some may trust again, and some are so scarred by human evils that they never fully trust. Holding a grudge? Unlikely. Responding to weeks, months, or years of torture and abuse? Absolutely.

Will Dogs Forgive You If You Accidentally Hurt Them?

There’s an updated spin on an old quote that goes, “To err is human, to forgive is canine.” Of course, dogs have emotions and feelings. Science has proven this.

“Look at it adaptively: emotions are messaging to the muscles and response system to circumvent the closed-door discussions between the sensory organs and brain,” Horowitz writes in her book, Our Dogs, Ourselves. “I see a tiger; I know that tigers are predators and this one is coming toward me . . . and Hey!, chimes the brain emotively, Be afraid! Run!”

According to Horowitz, dogs have emotions, but humans aren’t the most astute at distinguishing the different behaviors and postures dogs tell us about their internal states. I concur.

Yes, dogs remember things. Dogs harness a powerful, complex, deep range of emotions. If you are a loving person who makes a mistake that ends up harming your dog in some way, forgive yourself. Harboring guilt and dubbing yourself a bad person helps no one. So don’t do it. Great dog parents sometimes do really crappy things by accident: It’s called being a human being.

Does My Dog Hold A Grudge If I Yell At Him For Peeing In The House?

Of all the emotions dogs have, holding a grudge because you yelled at them is not one of them. They get sad, scared, and don’t understand why you are screaming and yelling in many cases. Here’s a prime example.

You go to work or out to a store, return home and realize your well-trained dog peed in the house. You yell, ask ‘what did you do,’ raise your voice and point your finger at the dog. The dog will likely cower, run around, act ‘guilty,’ and sulk. Your dog has no idea why you are angry. He peed a while ago and you are freaking out in the moment.

For a dog to pee in the house, plan ahead to do so, not know when you will find it, and then know you will get angry and start yelling or scolding them takes a whole lot of thought and planning. Of all the things a dog thinks about, getting even with you is not one of them.

Will your dog hold a grudge for yelling at him? Probably not, but he will start to learn you get mad when you come home and he may stop greeting you at the door. This doesn’t mean he is showing guilt. It means you taught him that you yell and shout shortly after coming home.

A better plan is to clean up the accident and revert back to potty training tips. Dogs often pee indoors for emotional or marking reasons. Dogs don’t pee indoors out of spite.

Here’s how to potty train an adult dog.

How Do I Tell My Dog I’m Sorry?

If you accidentally harmed your dog, first forgive yourself. Tell your mind a different story than the one it is currently reading.

Start by writing down all the awesome things you do for and with your dog.  This can include everything from going on walks to taking a trip together, to making sure he is well-fed, loved, etc. Make that list. Refer to it every time you feel guilty. Every single time.

You need to let it go because otherwise, it will eat you up and take time away from the bond you share with your dog. Here’s a quote you can tell yourself: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you.” ~Lewis B. Smedes

Do something good with your dog that makes you (and your pup) feel wonderful! Go for ice cream, play at the park, give him a tummy rub, get a new toy and play a game. Whatever it takes, re-program your brain.

spanking dog

I Hurt My Dog Out of Anger

There are things you should NEVER EVER EVER do to animals and do NOT qualify for “oops, I did not mean it.”  These things include, but are not limited to:

  • Hitting or spanking a dog
  • Forcing a dog to do something that causes them extreme distress (i.e. dogfighting, pushing a dog into a dark room and closing the door, things that are sick and twisted)
  • Putting a device on your dog that causes harm
  • Wiping a dog’s nose/face in feces because “that’ll teach ’em not to do it again”

If you repeatedly engage in any of the above abhorrent behaviors, please stop having a dog in your life and get professional mental help.

How do I know about some of these twisted things? As a writer/reporter, I have interviewed thousands of people in my lifetime: These are some of the behaviors that certain people find acceptable. They are not normal. They will never be normal. Please get a plant or a pet rock instead if you find any of the above to be normal.

Gone are the days of establishing yourself as the alpha leader and hitting or harming a dog to show dominance. When you hit or harm a dog out of anger, all you do is teach your dog to fear you in addition to the pain caused.

Dogs who snap, snarl, or get angry around certain people, or people in general, might be victims of abuse, neglect, or harm. If you hit your dog one time out of anger, you need to look inward and ask yourself why you engaged in such terrible behavior. Don’t do it again. Or please do not have a dog.

How Dogs Can Tell What You Feel

Dogs can tell what you feel by using their noses. Alexandra Horowitz has done extensive research studying canine cognition. Her video on how dogs “see” with their noses is worth watching. You’ll understand why your dog feels as he does and how his nose is the epicenter of everything.

how dogs see with their noses

Be A Kind Pet Parent

It’s easy to be a good person, and kindness is free. Your dog is a living being who wants nothing more than to love and be loved. Grudges are something people carry, but dogs are not humans. They are the best of us when the worst of us let us down and so much more. Be the person your dog thinks you are.

Have you ever done something to your pet that made you feel lousy? Remember, you aren’t alone, you aren’t human, and your dog loves you.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out these related topics:

How to stop a dog who pees for revenge

Dealing with guilt from the accidental death of my dog

Help if you accidentally hurt your dog

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35 Comments

  1. It is so nice to know that we are not alone in our mistakes. We are so fortunate that our “oops” moments are forgiven by our dogs much faster than by ourselves. I always find it sad that people don’t believe dogs and cats have amazing memories. Silly humans. I love sharing posts with you. ♥

    1. Ugh I get so sad when I step on a paw paw – and that squeal that ensues. I have to love and kiss to make it better and then beat myself up for doing so.

    2. i just accidentally hurt my dogs bad knee. i feel so awful. he was under the covers and i lifted them to give him a treat and try to get him up (he had not gone out to potty for over eight hours! so i thought maybe i should try to lure him out). i guess the blanket was caught up on his leg or maybe i got too close but he screamed and his bad knee seems to be bothering him. i can’t handle the guilt. i feel awful i hurt him.

  2. If we accidentally step on our Westie’s paw, she actually apologize’s to us! Dogs are so big hearted, loving and smart. I think people that mistreat them are the dregs of society.

  3. I would never hit or hurt any dog, but there have been times when I’ve accidentally stepped on their tails — of course they forgave me right away. That’s the great thing about dogs.

  4. I accidentally stepped on my friend’s dog’s tail and felt absolutely awful. I didn’t even know he was behind me. It was so awkward and the dog looked so sad.

  5. I accidentally rolled over my pup’s ear with my desk chair. I didn’t realize she had stretched out under my chair. Her yelp of pain made my heart stop! Now I always check under my chair before moving.

    I’ve had several foster dogs that we could tell have been hit or had things thrown at them. They would flinch or cower when we would reach down to pet them or when we threw a ball for them. Luckily, dogs are forgiving and can usually form a bond once you win their trust but it takes a lot of love and patience.

  6. It is the worst feeling when you accidentally run into your dog – from stepping on them to stepping on their tail. Sometimes they are so quiet around you!

  7. There is so much truth to this. I feel so bad whenever Luna or Ralph might get hurt or scared. Just last night they were running around the house and I accidentally stepped on a paw. The little squeal breaks my heart, so I just hold them tight for a bit to make sure they know and I know they know that I love them.

  8. Our dog wears a “shock” collar and I do not think it is a bad thing. We have never actually shocked her with it and it just vibrates when she gets too close to the fence. She fence fights and got bit by the dog on the other side which resulted in large vet bills. I would prefer a vibration to a hurt pup.

  9. I know we’ve almost stepped on the cat countless times because she gets underfoot and we didn’t realize it. We always feel so bad, but it’s not intentional. Accidents can, do and will happen.

  10. I agree that these are not things that should ever be done to a dog. We don’t potty train our children by rubbing their nose in feces, so the same should be said for our dogs. Also, things such as shock collars are just cruel and not needed. I once knew someone to try on a shock collar to see how it felt, and it made them drop to the ground due to how badly the shock hurt.

  11. Today I picked up my dog (Charlie) to give him a cuddle, but I heard a squeal. Then I realised I accidentally hurt his back and his left back foot. I felt so guilty even he was leaping. 🙁 It takes a really long time to earn my dog`s love and trust again. When I felt so sad and guilty I gave him a treat to say ” I am really sorry”. But he wouldn’t take the treat from my hand. I am afraid he will need surgery to fix him up!!! :(. Imagine he wouldn’t take some food from me and he would be starving that he could die!!! 🙁 🙁 :(. My mum was really mad at me. Someone please give me more advice so Charlie can forgive me.

    1. Hi Hailey – Accidents happen and Charlie forgives you. He just might be scared it will happen again. Imagine if that happened to you – I would be a little scared. Has he been checked by the vet and does he need surgery? Let us know and we can offer some advice to make Charlies BFFs with you again 😉 Big hugs!

  12. Agh! I slammed my cockers tail in the door 🙁 I felt so so so so horrible. She is fine, but I sat on the floor and cried like a baby. She forgave me, but still, its the worst feeling when you hurt the beautiful thing that brings you so much joy and love.

  13. I adopted my dog. I found him on the street and now he has been with me. I love him so much, he is so charming and lovable… so light hearted. This one time it was very late ( like 11:45 pm) and he wanted to go out for a walk, i took him out. While we were walking ( he follows me) he found something on the floor. It looked like dough or dry tortillas but i wasnt sure. It had been there for days. I told him NOT to eat it. I warned him and told him NO! drop it! i even took a piece out of his mouth by force. But my words were a joke to him, he kept eating eating it , he even turned around for more once we were walking away. So in a desperate attempt to “teach him” i grabbed him mouth and closed it ( like i read their mom dogs do it). i just wanted him to understand that that is not for eating but i did not meassure my force and my grip and i hold him so hard he cried a litttle bit. i let him go immediately, i was so mad i took him home in my arms. Now i feel AWFUL i feel like im the worst person, i am so so sorry i didnt mean to harm him i was just trying to teach him but now i know that is not the right way. Man i love my dog i hope he can forgive me i hope he still loves me like the very first day i brought him home… 🙁

  14. i closed the door while my pup head was inside i didn’t do it accidentally though. I feel too bad, now he ignores me :(….. how do i gain his trust back?!

  15. Good article, I disagree with the shock collar thing though. Used properly, I find them to be very good tools. You can correct the dog exactly when they are doing the undesired action and they can more easily associate the undesired action with correction. I find it to be better on the dogs because it only takes once or twice and you aren’t asking them to guess what they are doing wrong. I also find that I don’t have to use them very long (thankfully) and most are set up to do a sound or vibrate before shocking so you usually don’t have to shock them to get correction. I had 2 large dogs that had a bad habit of chasing cows and the cattle owner was VERY protective of his cattle. I had tried and tried to break them from it for their own good and but they thought it was a game. I used the collar once on the big one and she stopped immediately and no longer chased cows. The smaller one it took 2 hits, but she too stopped. Both dogs lived long happy and healthy lives.
    Now for folks that abuse dogs or hurt them intentionally for no reason, they should be tied to a fireant bed covered in honey

  16. I yanked my Little dog on her leash too hard to keep her from running out into the street and she lost her balence and skidded on the sidewalk and one of her feet got scratched and she bled a little. I immediately picked her up and cried . . She is ok, and is not acting any differently to me and is as loving as ever. I am upset with myself for this! I keep replaying the incident over and over in my mind. I love my baby and in 10 years this is the only time I hurt her and it was an accident

  17. I don’t have any dogs, but do have 2 chinchillas. I just got them and they are so gentle and sweet, but very skittish and wriggly. The other day I let the littlest out, his name’s Yogi, and he was having the time of his lie running around but it was nearly midnight so I decided to pop him back in his cage. When he was calm enough to pick up, I couldn’t get a proper grip on him and it was such a mess he ended up wriggling away, I genuinely cried because I was so scared he’d hate me and never want to be picked up again. About 5 minutes later he was fully over it, running around, climbing on my lap and my laptop. Just goes to show how much more forgiving he was of me then I was of myself. I was still shakey and nervous about it for hours, even though he didn’t care. He gets himself into more trouble and is unphased by jumping from the windowsill and curtains, but it just felt awful.

  18. Thank you so much for this.
    I was walking a dog and she starting chewing a stick that got caught in her throat and we couldn’t get it out at first when I finally managed to get it out she was just bouncing up at me like her best friend. I’ve been crying ever since. I keep replaying in my head how I could have reacted quicker and got it out sooner. I need to remember that I did get it out and she is fine now.

  19. I loved this line: “A better plan is to clean up the accident and revert back to potty training tips. Dogs often pee indoors for emotional or marking reasons. Dogs don’t pee indoors out of spite.” The easy path is to yell and get upset. And we get that. Often we’re so busy that the last thing we need is to clean up another mess (particularly one that is avoidable). But every act of discipline is really an opportunity for the ‘subject’ to learn. If a child does something wrong it creates a catalyst for discussing why it was wrong .. and how we can avoid the same situation in the future. Yelling rarely gets that message across. And while it might stop the behavior, it does so through fear and guilt (which has other unintended consequences). The same goes with our pooches. We learn through our mistakes if someone is willing to teach (rather than yell at) us. If we view every interaction involving a mistake as an opportunity to teach, our fur babies benefit … and so do we. Great article all round.

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