All dogs are armed with a powerful weapon — guilty eyes.
It’s the face canines break out when you scold them for a house training accident or shoe shredding. Cowering to make themselves a bit smaller, they flash you those big, brimming, upward cast eyes that seem to scream “FORGIVE ME!”
Turns out this is an old trick.
According to a recent Psychology Today article by Nathan H. Lents, a molecular biologist with the City University of New York, this expression can be traced back to a dog’s ancestor: the wolf.
When young wolves get a little too rough with another member of the pack they will offer an “apology bow,” a survival tactic shaped over time, that Lents and others believe has evolved into a dog’s guilty face.
When a young wolf bites too hard, or rumbles too rough, it is shunned by the pack until they offer an “apology bow.” This shows the pack the young wolf understands the importance of social integration for survival.
“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.”
The actions even look alike. Just like in an apology bow, a regretful dog will lower its head, avoid direct eye contact and put its tail between its legs. Wolves trying to win back their group’s favor will take a similar stance.
This does not mean that canines understand the complex feeling of guilt. Research has shown that dogs respond this way to any kind of scolding, deserved or otherwise; so it should be viewed more as an act of submission to their leader instead of as an informed apology for their misdeeds.