Animal Psychologists Explain What Those Guilty Puppy Eyes Really Mean

Posted by Krissy Howard
Badly Behaved Dog Ripping Up Cushion At Home

They use them to tug at our heartstrings, and sometimes to get away with not-so-perfect behavior, but scientists have recently uncovered why our dogs flash those guilty, puppy dog eyes. 

You've probably seen them before - those guilty "puppy dog" eyes. Big and sad, looking up at you as you scold them for chewing a shoe. The look, usually paired with a cower, has been used on us humans for, well, probably as long as dogs have been our companions, but why do they do it?

Animal behaviorists call it the "apology bow," and it's a trait that can be witnessed in groups of social pack animals, such as wolves and other wild dogs. They use the tactic of rejecting dogs from the group at the display of bad behavior, like roughhousing, or a hard bite, in an effort to keep order in the pack. The scorned dog then attempts to reenter the pack by offering their apology.

Guilty puppy sitting on a bed. The dog is black, thoroughbred - French Bulldog

"Dogs have inherited this behavior and they will use it after any kind of infraction that results in being punished," Lents wrote in a recent study, published in Psychology Today.

"As social animals, they crave harmonious integration in the group and neglect or isolation is painful for them."

While not so much a people-pleasing move, the bow is more of a survival tactic, allowing the wolf to reenter the pack and therefore giving them a better chance to obtain necessities such as food, safety, and an opportunity to mate.

While these concerns don't exactly ring true in regard to their relationship with humans today, the primal need to maintain harmonious relationships with those closest to them will often result in the dog submitting, which is why you might see your dog tucking their tail, licking their lips, panting, and of course, flashing us those big, sad eyes anytime they find themselves in a little trouble.

Have you seen your dog do the apology bow? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Animal Psychologists Explain What Those Guilty Puppy Eyes Really Mean