Do Dogs Get Embarrassed?

Written by: Will Storie

June 2, 2017

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There’s a lot to love about dogs; but I think my favorite thing is that they’re absolutely shameless. Whether they’re sticking their face in a friend’s butt, or scream-barking out in the park, or scarfing down trash at the first opportunity: dogs are proud, magnificent goofballs.

But sometimes our dogs *do* seem to get a little embarrassed. Like when you catch your dog in the middle of some less-than-professional business in the living room, and you snap into Angry Mom mode, and they give you those sad “who, me?” eyes… you know they know that they feel a little foolish.

So, what’s going on there, exactly? Let’s put it to our trusty friend, Science!

Researchers at the University of Helsinki took a look at your dog’s shame face. Their conclusion: our pups picked up the shame face over centuries of domestication, as a tactic to make peace with their human friends. So our dogs read our faces and tell when we’re mad- and they look away to show remorse.

Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, says that dogs can experience “embarrassment, shyness and humiliation” (aww, sorry pups!) But most researchers side with Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs Smell, See, and Know. Horowitz credits dogs for their strong talent for reading our own feelings, but considers “shame” or “embarrassment” too complex for their understanding.

My investigation: An interview with Ziggy

Interesting as the research might be, it just doesn’t compare to good old fashioned paw-to-paw evidence. So I sat down for an interview with Ziggy, the most awkward dog in the BarkPost office. Below, a brief transcript of our interview.

Will: Thank you for joining me today, Ziggy.
Ziggy: (blank stare, smile)

Will: Ziggy, you’re rather famous in our office for your, well, awkwardness. Let me read you some quotes from earlier this week, when you had a bad case of gas after dinner. These are real quotes, Ziggy.

“It’s making me wonder if I ever want to breathe again” – Chris.
“I’m gonna go blind in one eye.” – Marcus.
“This is a big office and he just hotboxed us all.” – Zoe… your own mother.

Ziggy, would you say that was… embarrassing?

Ziggy: (blank stare, smile)

Ziggy was proving a tough nut to crack. I had to bust out the big guns.

Will: Ziggy, I recently found this book under your dog bed. Do you recognize it?

Will: This diary seems to be in your paw-writing. Let me read you an excerpt: “DO NOT TELL ANYONE ABOUT MY CRUSH. It’s my–”

Well, after the events of that interview, I believe that dogs can indeed get embarrassed. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go make this up to Ziggy.

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Written by: Will Storie

June 2, 2017