We’ve all done it. Whether you’ve accidentally bumped your dog, run out of their favourite chews or trod on a paw. You feel so bad about it that you drop everything and rush to the dog, pleading with them for forgiveness.
They may not understand exactly what you’re saying to them but dogs are incredibly intelligent animals that can tell when someone’s being sincere – a look of guilt on your face or an apology said in such a way that shows you’re sorry for what happened will be enough.
If you’re not confident how your pup will take an apology or don’t have a clue what they might be thinking, don’t worry. There are some simple ways to say sorry in a way that they will understand.
Do dogs understand when you apologise?
It’s not clear if dogs understand what we mean when we say “I’m sorry” to them. One difficulty with interpreting dog behaviour is that dogs are able to interpret our body language and tone more accurately than our spoken words. That said, it’s not known for sure whether or not dogs know the meaning of “I’m sorry”, but we’d like to think so.
We don’t know if they have the emotions that require them to do a lot more cognitive processing. That isn’t to say they don’t, but we don’t have any evidence. You’d expect them to have the ability to read social signals, to some degree.
We can’t say for sure whether they know that what you’re doing is an apology. But does it matter?
The important thing is reconnecting and making sure the dog knows you’re not angry with them. You want to ensure they know that you’re still supportive and still their human.
So, whether dogs can understand when you apologise or not remains a mystery, but there is definitely some sort of feeling… Whether they forgive you or not is a different question!
When I got my dog, he was 8 months – so he wasn’t a puppy exactly, but he was still in his prime – chewing, breaking stuff, running around. Like every young dog would do.
I left him at home when I left for work, and when I returned – my wedding photos were eaten! I was super upset because we lost the digital version and we only had photos that we printed out.
I’m sorry to say – but I did throw a fit, yelled, and gave my dog a “bad-dog” treatment – I wasn’t physically hurting him – but he knew he did something wrong.
When my husband came home, he was able to calm me down and we got an idea to renew our wedding vows and redo the photoshoot with our dog in it. We made a funny and cute series of photos where we were recreating the old photos we had, our dog by our side.
Even though he didn’t know it – he accidentally made us rethink our marriage, revisit what we achieved and appreciate what we have. And as a sorry, he got a special place in the photos of the most special day any couple can have.
Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM, We Love Doodles
Do dogs hold grudges?
Dog owners have been wondering about this for years.
Fortunately, dogs don’t hold a grudge; if you think your dog has changed his or her behaviour, it’s more likely that they are scared or you’ve inadvertently harmed them.
If your dog was frightened or in pain by what occurred, it could result in a dog that is afraid of you. This type of learning, also known as Pavlovian conditioning, is referred to as classical conditioning. this is where two events that are close in time are associated with one another by your dog. Here’s an example.
I once spilt some of my cup of tea on Dolly’s head. It was not boiling hot I hasten to add, just tepid. I have a habit of letting my tea go cold if I don’t drink it straight away. Anyway, I digress. Dolly did not appreciate the splosh of liquid and leapt off my lap. It was actually her fault as she was sitting next to me on the sofa and nudged my elbow as I lifted up the mug!
But ever since then she has avoided me when I’m drinking my tea, just in case she gets sploshed again. She has associated my mug with an unpleasant experience. Even if you wave an empty mug at her, she will go and hide to avoid it happening again. This is classical conditioning.
Dogs are pretty good at understanding the intention of your actions and can tell when you’ve accidentally bumped them, rather than deliberately barged them. If this happens a lot, your dog will become more cautious when you move about, attempting to get our of your way and more likely to “forgive” you for the bump.
Do dogs actually forgive you?
The answer to this question is hard to say for sure.
The emotional response of a dog is completely in the moment. They are not capable of holding grudges or spite towards an owner who accidentally steps on their paw.
But can they forgive? That is a different question altogether. Forgiveness in humans is deeply complicated but has been studied for years, dogs may be more similar than we think. It’s not the physical act of forgiving but rather “the ability to let go and move on from a negative situation.
Dogs are particularly good at this. They don’t hold grudges or guilt trips, in most scenarios they just keep going with their lives as if nothing happened. It’s us humans who still feel guilty days later. So perhaps we can learn something from our canine friends after all?
How to apologise to a hurt or scared dog
Occasionally, dogs can become terrified when their owners hurt them by mistake. This fear is more typical in shelter dogs who may have previously been in abusive homes because they are scared of people .
You can soothe your dog down by speaking to them gently if they hide in a corner and refuse to approach. Calling them from a safe distance will assist in the development of trust. Then, when they feel comfortable, call them and allow them to come closer
When the dog is ready, maintain a welcoming and calm attitude. Your behaviour and good mood will assist them to feel more at ease, making your apology more effective than simply stating “sorry.”
How To Show Your Dog You’re Sorry
Giving your dog the two things they enjoy most, your time and praise, is the greatest method to apologise. Your dog loves you and wishes to spend as much time with you as possible.
Don’t Use Treats
Treats should not be used when you apologise to your dog. When it comes to training, treats are a wonderful tool, but they have no place in an apology scenario.
You use goodies to praise excellent conduct when you train your dog. However, when attempting to regain your dog’s confidence, they haven’t exhibited a behaviour that deserves a reward. It’s you that’s in the wrong. Instead, keep treats for training and rewarding desired behaviours.
Tone of Voice
Dogs pick up on your tone of voice and understand what you want. They aren’t always aware of words like “sorry” or “I apologise,” but they are sensitive to when you’re attempting to interact with them positively.
When apologising to your dog, use the tone you use when praising positive behaviour (a cheerful and grateful voice). When communicating with your dog, be genuine and patient. Remind them that everything is OK and that they are safe and loved.
I believe that dogs have an understanding of what we are saying and definitely understand tone of voice.
I tell her that I’m sorry, repeating the word in a low, kind voice while giving lots of hugs and kisses.
This tells her that the tone of voice, the word sorry, and hugs are associated with good things.”
Alison Angold, Winnie’s Mum – A Dog Deserves
Spend Time With Your Dog
If your dog responds favourably to your positive tone of voice, spend some time with them. Even a few minutes of snuggling or rubbing their tummy will demonstrate to them that they don’t need to be afraid and you love them. However, if your dog is still afraid of you after time together, don’t push it.
Regaining Your Dog’s Trust
Once you’ve apologised, your dog may still be distant and afraid of you.
Previous trauma or an event might cause it. It may take some time, but be patient with your dog throughout this process. Dogs do understand us as their owners and protectors.
Chances are that your dog isn’t mad at you and understands how much you care for them. For some dogs, it might take some time to trust you again. This is especially true for dogs who have gone through abuse or trauma in a prior home.
Give Space if They Need it
Some dogs may respond well to your attention. Other dogs want to be alone. If your dog needs space, let them have it. If they appear frightened, don’t push yourself in their presence. Instead, allow them to approach you at their own pace.
Give them a secure location to go, such as their crate, and allow them to approach you at their own leisure. Drop down to their level and invite them over when beckoning them.
There are many ways to apologise to your dog. When you’re apologising, make sure that the tone of voice is cheerful and grateful. If they respond favourably, spend some time with them or do their favourite things like sitting together or playing fetch. It may take some time but if they trust you again (they want to be around you) then it’s worth it!
Animals are naturally psychic. An effective way of communicating with your dog (or cat) is working with thought, imagery and feeling.
So instead of just saying you are sorry to your dog, or buying them a toy, you can actually visualize what being sorry is for you in your mind and create a strong powerful visual, and then imagine putting that visual in your dogs mind, showing them through thought forms and emotions, even without words.
Jusstine Kenzer – Hollywood’s goto for everything answers and healing. www.psychicgirl.com