Why do some dogs look hangdog?

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Looking ‘hangdog’ is a state of appearing sheepish or guilty. Many dogs look hangdog when they have done something wrong, such as going to the bathroom on the floor, or chewing an item other than a toy. Dogs who look hangdog will often have their muzzle pointed towards the floor, their ears pinned to their heads or tilted backwards, and their gaze cast upward. Often times, a dog who is hangdog will also retreat to what he sees as a safe place, such as behind a piece of furniture, a crate, corner or dog bed.

Some studies have shown that a dog who looks hangdog is not actually feeling guilt, but instead, reacting to their owner’s behavior. A dog knows that if he does something wrong, that will result in a certain reaction from his owner. This could include yelling and a version of a time out, wherein a dog is placed in a crate or other secluded area as punishment. Unfortunately, many dogs are also physically punished for any wrongdoings.

A dog’s behavior is often mirrored after an owner’s behavior. If an owner is confident and calm, a dog will act in accordance; if an owner is angry and disappointed, a dog will mirror these emotions. The look of hangdog is most likely a result of the owner’s behavior, and not necessarily an admission or acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of the dog.

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