Can Dogs Get Embarrassed?

Embarrassed dog on couch

You might think the answer is an obvious and resounding yes, but there’s more to the story than that.

Dogs are popularly known to be emotional beings. And truth be told, they do a good job of expressing these emotions too.

But is the truth just as simple with embarrassment which is a slightly complex emotion? Let’s see.

Dogs and Basic Emotions

We know that dogs can love unconditionally. They have sympathy and are curious beings.

It is easy to spot basic emotions like joy and happiness. We see them every time we return home, whether it is from a long day at the office or a trip.

We also know that if we give them a good enough reason, they can feel anxiety and depression too. The same is true for different types of distress and anger, right?

It is absolutely a fact that they feel separation anxiety and even go as far as getting depressed if we leave them alone for too long. This, of course, depends on the breed.

Dogs are loving beings. They can care enough to risk their own lives for their beloved humans.

We also know that dogs are capable of feeling guilt. Some humans, unfortunately, try to use this against them.

But when it comes to embarrassment, things are not as simple.

There are times when you look at them and can swear that your little (or giant) canine is absolutely embarrassed. But behaviorally speaking, it’s not as obvious.

Animal behaviorists have a few theories, especially about dogs’ capacity to feel embarrassment, which is a slightly more complex emotion than joy and sadness.

There isn’t too much research into this topic, but here’s what we know about it.

Also Read: Why Does My Dog Sniff My Clothes?

Experts Who Agree Say…

The simple answer to this is that dogs might not feel shame and humiliation the way humans do. That is because they don’t have the same level of self-awareness as we do.

But it is not entirely lacking in your pooch. When we talk about social humiliation, it is important to know that they are self-conscious to an extent.

They do have tendencies that resemble shame and embarrassment, which are known to be secondary emotions. In pets, this can be a complicated situation.

According to some experts, there is absolutely no denying that these emotions are present in dogs. Unfortunately, it is a little hard to tell and we can’t just have a conversation with them about it.

For instance, Dr. Marc Bekoff, a professor of evolutionary biology and ecology at the University of Colorado feels this way. He says that dogs do feel shy, humiliated and embarrassed.

And Dr. Fredrick Range, a neurobiologist at the University of Vienna says his studies actually prove this point.

So, many experts have figured out how to spot embarrassment if and when it happens. We will get to that in a minute.

But Not Everyone Feels This Way

But, on the other hand, there are some experts who say that dogs cannot feel complex emotions like embarrassment. They say that dogs are limited to the basics of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise and fear.

These emotions show up as an instant reaction to whatever is happening around them. So, loud noises can startle them while treats can make them happy.

According to these experts, embarrassment happens when one believes that they have done a culturally or socially unacceptable thing. This happens when a being is self-aware to a certain extent and they don’t think dogs have reached that point.

For instance, Dr. Terri Bright of Boston’s Angell Animal Medical Center says that dogs don’t have the overall sense of morals or social norms like humans. So, they cannot feel embarrassed like us.

And they cannot tell us about these complex feelings, which means we have to decipher them based on cues. Dogs of certain breeds inherit signals of appeasement like head-turning or yawning and we interpret them as an embarrassment.

And Then There’s the Middle Path

Not all experts are sure that we know all the necessary details to draw a conclusion.

Molly Sumridge who is a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant, is one such example. She is also the Founder of Kindred Companions located in Frenchtown, New Jersey.

Sumridge not only believes that the answer is somewhere on the spectrum between yes and no but also that we need more research to answer this question.

She says that we are making quite a few broad assumptions when it comes to analyzing embarrassment in dogs. According to her, we need more scientific and behavioral data to figure out the answer.

Sumridge says that it is difficult to understand embarrassment by comparing it to discomfort, anxiety or fear. That is also because all these emotions depend on the particular dog’s behavior and environment.

She believes that we cannot draw conclusions and complicate the relationship between dogs and their humans without sufficient data. In her opinion, this does more harm than offer help.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Also Read: Do Dogs Know When They Are Dying?

So, Which Is It and How Can You Tell?

It’s not that simple to figure out what it is and this is one explanation. Some believe that humans call it embarrassment based on actions that have nothing to do with that particular emotion at all.

It is possible that the circumstances and the behavior of that particular dog are causing it to act the way it does. And the answer might be elusive because dogs can’t tell us what it is.

If you feel that you have done something that is causing embarrassment to your dog, maybe don’t do it at all. On the other hand, if you’re doing something that is making your dog happy, do that as much as you can.

The way you can tell that your dog is embarrassed or ashamed is through these signs. The way dogs carry themselves will tell you all about how they feel.

Is your dog not looking at you after they have acted goofy, that’s possibly a sign of embarrassment. The same is true if they are acting submissive.

Acting sheepish and shy is also a sign of shame or embarrassment. If you are looking for more obvious cues, here are some hints.

If your pooch starts to walk funny or tuck its tail, that’s something to notice. Some dogs also tend to pin the ears down or hide.

Then there is furring of the brows and cowering mildly. These can also be taken as signs of embarrassment.

Dogs are also known to exhibit these signs when they are ill or have done something they are not supposed to. So, don’t just dismiss it as goofy behavior.

Unfortunately, this is true for anger, jealousy or distress. So, you might want to pay closer attention to them and their surroundings when you notice these signs.

Possible Scenarios for Embarrassment

Now, what could possibly embarrass your little furry friend? Here are some possible answers.

If You Laugh at Them

Sometimes, dogs do ridiculous things that make you laugh. You might not be able to stop laughing and think it’s okay to tease them a bit.

Now, this is okay in some situations, but if you do this with a group of your friends or family members, they might feel some amount of harmless embarrassment.

Remember that when we do this to humans, it is sometimes a joke but other times, it counts as bullying. We might be projecting these feelings onto our dogs, but you want to be sure that you’re not hurting their feelings.

Those who say that dogs feel embarrassed agree with this theory, while others say we are just anthropomorphizing our dogs. It’s hard to say which is true because we tend to do them both.

Embarrassing Haircut

Some dog parents also like to experiment with their dog’s fashion choices.

Now, dogs don’t check themselves the way humans do. They also don’t care (much) about what other people or dogs think about these fashion choices.

So, it is possible that the social aspect of it doesn’t bother them as much as how they smell does.

In that sense, you might just be okay but again, it’s hard to tell.

When They Fart

This is a natural occurrence in humans and dogs. We get embarrassed because we are thinking of what the people around us may say about the foul smell.

Farts can surprise your dog, but embarrassment is unlikely because of the act of farting itself. However, if you laugh at them and mock them, we are in a gray area as far as embarrassment is concerned.

It’s just a bodily function like sneezing and they don’t feel ashamed. Perhaps we could learn something from them…to a certain extent.

Also Read: Why Do Dogs Like Sticks?

Summary

In summary, it is possible that they feel embarrassment in some situations. But since the emotion itself is a bit complicated and there are so many variables involved, it is hard to tell with absolute certainty if dogs feel embarrassed.

But if you think your canine is feeling it, stop doing whatever it is that’s causing it. Kapish?