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Do dogs feel embarrassed?

Dogs are complex creatures with a wide range of emotions. As our furry companions have become more integrated into our families, there has been growing interest in the question of whether dogs feel complex emotions like embarrassment.

Do dogs show embarrassment-like behaviors?

Many dog owners can relate anecdotes of their dogs displaying behaviors that seem embarrassed after certain situations, such as:

  • Lowering their heads and avoiding eye contact
  • Tucking their tails between their legs
  • Hiding behind or under furniture
  • Leaving the room

These types of actions often occur after situations like:

  • Being scolded or disciplined
  • Having an accident in the house
  • Being laughed at or teased
  • Failing to accomplish a familiar task like catching a ball

To owners, these behaviors resemble those a human might display if they were embarrassed or ashamed. But is that what dogs are really feeling?

What does research say about dog embarrassment?

Scientific research on complex emotions like embarrassment in dogs is limited, but some initial studies provide clues:

  • A 2016 study found dogs displayed more appeasement gestures like crouching or tail-tucking when being watched by humans after failing at a task.
  • Another 2016 study found dogs were more likely to avoid eye contact with angry versus smiling human faces, suggesting they felt discomfort or shame from disapproval.
  • In 2018, a study showed dogs who failed an impossible task were more stressed when their owners laughed at them than when they encouraged them.

While these studies hint dogs may feel self-conscious emotions, more research is needed to truly determine if dogs experience embarrassment.

What causes embarrassment and shame in humans?

In humans, embarrassment and shame are complex self-conscious emotions that require high cognition. Contributing factors include:

  • Self-awareness – Recognizing the self and one’s own behaviors
  • Theory of mind – Understanding others are aware of you and judge your actions
  • Abstract thinking – Contemplating how you exist in another’s mind
  • Complex memories – Recalling details about social rules and previous similar situations
  • Sense of poor judgment – Regretting an action that is socially unacceptable or incompetent

This level of abstract thinking is very sophisticated for any animal. But do dogs possess these same abilities?

Do dogs have the cognitive abilities for embarrassment?

Research shows dogs likely have some of the core foundations needed to experience complex emotions like embarrassment:

  • Self-awareness – Dogs can recognize themselves in mirrors, suggesting self-recognition.
  • Social intelligence – Dogs are highly skilled at reading human body language and facial cues.
  • Memory – Dogs have excellent memory for training and past events.

However, dogs’ capacity for theory of mind, abstract thinking, and regret appear limited compared to humans. So while dogs may feel simple forms of social discomfort or shame, full-blown embarrassment may exceed their cognitive abilities.

Why do dog behaviors sometimes appear embarrassed?

If dogs lack the complex cognition for true embarrassment, why do they sometimes act embarrassed? Some possible explanations:

  • Dogs are very sensitive to human approval. Perceiving disapproval may cause mild distress.
  • Dogs associate certain behaviors with punishment. Acting submissively may be an attempt to avoid scolding.
  • Dogs have learned that certain postures calm human anger or frustration.
  • Feelings like guilt and shame have evolutionary roots in submissive social behaviors common across mammals.

So while dogs may not feel “embarrassed” in the human sense, they display analog behaviors that convey appeasement or deferral to us. Their social intelligence allows them to adapt to human culture and learn our complex social rules.


Do dogs experience embarrassment and shame the way humans do? While they may have some of the core abilities like self-awareness, their capacity for abstract thought seems too limited for complex self-conscious emotions.

However, studies hint dogs may feel simpler forms of social distress when they feel judged negatively by humans. While we can’t definitively say dogs get embarrassed, their close relationships with us motivate them to be sensitive to human approval and learn behaviors that display appeasement or “guilt” when they disappoint us.