You know the look: bowed head, flat ears, eyes wide and cut to the side, back hunched, tail between the legs. Combine it all and you’ve got one guilty looking dog! While many pawrents believe their pooch is showing actual remorse for pooping on the floor or scattering the contents of the trash across the kitchen, psychologists and animal behaviorists say it is more an act of submission than an admission of guilt.
In a recent Psychology Today article, City University of New York molecular biologist, Nathan H. Lents, described the “apology bow” that young wolves learn in the early phases of social integration within a pack. When a wolf pup bites too hard during play, he or she will be temporarily spurned by the rest of the group. In order to regain the pack’s good graces, the pup learns to approach with an apology bow.
“Dogs have inherited this behavior and they will use it after any kind of infraction that results in being punished,” Lents wrote. “As social animals, they crave harmonious integration in the group and neglect or isolation is painful for them.”
When our dogs display this behavior, they are reacting to our tone, body language and energy. According to research, they will do this regardless of whether they have disobeyed or not, showing that they understand being punished, but not necessarily what they’ve done to earn the punishment.
So as silly and innocent as all those dog shaming memes appear, try not to drag out a scolding when your own dog makes a mistake. That pitiful apology bow is really their way of saying, “It breaks my heart when you are angry with me. Can we please be friends again?”