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.
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.
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.
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