Do Dogs Feel Remorse?

Ruby’s Confession

On Tuesday morning at 7.30am, as is usual before our Alpha Female leaves for work, Ziggy and I were let out.

We took our usual trot around the garden.  It was on reaching the front of the house that I realised the gate had been left open by a delivery person.

I considered my options.  I know I am not supposed to leave the garden.  This is for my own safety.

My thought processes were temporarily interrupted by this thought:

RABBITS!

I ran.  Ziggy followed.

Somewhere in my doggy brain I could hear Alpha Female, but stronger and louder was the call of

RABBITS!

I kept on running down the footpath, through the barbed wire fence, through the thistles and brambles and nettles, across the field, and down to the river bank, where there are hundreds and hundreds of

RABBIT BURROWS!

I did hear, for fifteen minutes or so, the sound of Alpha Female calling our names, in varying tones of forced patience, grim firmness, and finally, slight hysteria.  I popped my head up several times, and even started to make my way towards her, but then I remembered

RABBITS!

She stopped calling, perhaps to go back home for treats.  It is touching that she loves us so much she brings us refreshments when we are chasing rabbits.

It is true that I heard squealing, perhaps as she attempted to climb over the barbed wire fence, and to negotiate the thistles, brambles and nettles.  If only she had four legs: she could leap nimbly.  The wellies don’t help.  Particularly when paired with work-wear.

I don’t really remember what happened then.  I was busy with

RABBITS!

Alpha Female has something called a ‘job’ and a ‘professional reputation’ and she had an ‘important meeting’ in ‘another part of the county’.

I think that is why Nana arrived.  I heard Nana calling.  Alpha Female probably told Nana not to jump over the barbed wire fence, and so Nana opened a tin of tuna and left it by the gate.  I didn’t smell it, because I was busy with

RABBITS!

Nana walked around and around the surrounding fields and lanes. She likes to stay active.

I am well camouflaged, and Ziggy can get almost his whole body down a rabbit hole, and therefore we are ‘difficult to spot’.

Nana made friends with all the local dog-walkers, even giving her phone number out to them.

Alpha Female was in contact with Nana between her ‘important meetings’.  Nana informed her that we were still missing, and that the local dog-walkers expressed fears about dog-nappers (whatever they are).  Alpha Female rang our vet [shudder] and left messages with the ‘Area Dog Warden’ [?]

I don’t know how much time passed because I was busy with

RABBITS!

I realised I was a little bit thirsty and a little bit tired, and I could detect a whiff of tuna.  I remembered where I live, and that I have a family who love me, and an Alpha Female and Alpha Male to take care of me.

I reminded Ziggy, whose tongue was lolling in that undignified way he has.  He was looking muddy.  We trotted towards the smell of tuna.

We were just enjoying the reward of tuna which was waiting at the garden gate, when Nana came out of the house and greeted us with joy and wonder.  She was very proud of us.  We had managed a whole SEVEN HOURS of rabbit chasing.  That beats our previous record by six and a half hours!

We fell asleep in our basket.

I woke up just as Alpha Female arrived home from ‘work’.  I went to greet her.  I sensed something humans mysteriously call ‘disapproval’.  I sat on my bottom as she took her boots off.  I couldn’t quite meet her gaze.

She spoke to me sternly for a full five minutes. She was wagging her finger and did not pat me. She kept repeating these words: ‘worry’, ‘inconvenience’ and ’embarrassment’. I needed to ‘think about my behaviour’ and ‘the betrayal of trust’ and I should ‘forget about eating any more tuna for a while’.

I wagged my tail a bit. My paws hurt. I’m really tired.

Ziggy’s Confession

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I just followed Ruby. My paws hurt. I’m really tired.

How do you explain consequences to a dog? Can a dog express remorse? How long should a pair of dogs be shunned by the pack?

What if they wag their tails a bit?

Two days on from the little adventure, Ruby is still showing signs of remorse.  She is not so insistent in her nosing or licking, but approaches more hesitantly.  Every time I walk past she is looking up at me, as if to check we are ok.  

Ziggy is still asleep.

This made me reflect that all relationships involve occasional mistakes, and hurt, and thoughtlessness. It is easy to forgive someone who realises their mistake, and feels bad, and tries to do better next time. It is hard to forgive when there are no signs of understanding, let alone remorse.

I can forgive the dogs, because they are dogs. Even so, some dogs are better at remorse than some humans.

This blog is usually about gardening, but events occasionally take over.

Feel free to explore more of this site by visiting the Home Page or clicking on links.

I will get back to bulb-planting when I have stopped growling at the dogs.

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40 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma Cownie says:

    I think they just “look” sorry until we stop telling them off, although my husband is convinced they experience guilt.

    1. Ali says:

      I think you’re right. They pick up on the tone of voice and lack of indulgence, and look worried!

  2. Jane Eastgate says:

    I think they definitely know they’ve done wrong even if they don’t know exactly what – they understand that the pack leader is annoyed, ie you. Our springer used to slink along the floor rather than his normal bouncing until forgiven and Fergus hides out in another room with his face to the wall!

    1. Ali says:

      Ziggy crawls too! He knows he’s not allowed upstairs, so just crawls when he’s up there! He sticks to the walls too! It is very funny.

    2. Ali says:

      I love the face to the wall! Zig did this once, but even he didn’t seem to know why!

      1. Jane Eastgate says:

        If he is feeling really guilty he sits in the downstairs shower staring into the corner. Usually after he has been digging where he shouldn’t in the veg bed.

      2. Ali says:

        That is hilarious. What an adorable dog.

  3. shazza says:

    Haha love it.
    I have never really seen Hugo express remorse! He sometimes looks pissed off or sorry for himself, but if he is naughty I am sure he just thinks it’s funny when we we tell him off. Love the looks on your dog’s faces.Aw. xx

    1. Ali says:

      It is funny how their personalities come out in every situation. I don’t think Ziggy ever understands what he’s done. It seems wrong to punish him because I don’t feel like he’s got that level of understanding. Whereas poor Ruby knows what she’s done and gets the lecture.

      1. shazza says:

        I’m glad they came back, little scamp’s! X

  4. Magical. You have written this so so well. A completely engaging post.

    I hope you write like this more often. A great talent that you have.

  5. Susan Beard. says:

    Those first few hours must have felt so great… Freedom, excitement,adventure…All animals should experience this….but glad all ended safe and sound.

  6. I can imagine how worried you were! But they are both unimaginably adorable. You, of course, had to forgive them. 🙂

  7. bcparkison says:

    Oh yes…they know .

  8. brilliant: ‘ I sensed something humans mysteriously call ‘disapproval”!

  9. Wonderfully written💕

  10. Eliza Waters says:

    What a fun adventure they had, following their noses. Seven hours is a long time, though. You must have been frantic. Hard not to forgive them as they are so adorable. 😉

    1. Ali says:

      Seven hours is a very long time. I think even they realised that

  11. FlowerAlley says:

    I am glad that they know that it was wrong to worry you. I doubt they feel bad for the poor rabbits.

    1. Ali says:

      No. Absolutely no remorse there!

  12. Cathy says:

    Quite bizarrely, when I first started reading this post I thought the title was ‘Do frogs show remorse?’ and as I couldn’t see any pictures at first I was curious about where the frogs came into the story…🙄 However, once I read further the penny dropped and I was able to follow what was a rollicking good story, well-written in your usual inimitable style. Thank you for sharing your adventures or, strictly speaking, those of Ruby and Ziggy 😊

    1. Ali says:

      That is brilliant, Cathy!! I don’t know, maybe frogs do show remorse! I wonder how they err?

  13. OMG…I just adore this post! I have link you to mine https://wordpress.com/post/fromthepinkshed.com/11094
    I do think they feel remorse! My Winnie certainly seemed to all that day. I’m so glad things worked out for you, too. I know the feeling of utter terror and helplessness! I feel like you have a GREAT chlldren’s book here! Just stop (or not) when you delve into remorse. I could see the art and feel like I was turning the pages and reading aloud! Sometimes, it’s fun to veer off course. You must come out of the garden to play more often!

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you Michelle! I am pleased to provide some light relief in desperate times! xxx

  14. prue batten says:

    Thank heaven they didn’t get stuck in holes!!!! And I think the fact they SEEM remorseful is wonderrul!
    My Jack Russell hasn’t got a shred of remorse in his body. For all of his six years he has been trained and trained again not to be a barking idiot when he sees things that stir his Very Little Brain. I react, he reacts back with what he wants to do. Remorse? Huh! But i have to say, he shows great respect in the garden and has yet to damage anything. It’s good to have one point in his favour.

    1. Ali says:

      Ziggy is a little prone to digging in the compost, but hasn’t caused any damage to plants.

  15. What funny creatures dogs are and how well you handled their “mistake!” I agree with your allegories point. A friend of mine recently mentioned, as many of us sat around talking about recent events, that she too had a man attempt an aggressive act against her will. The difference is he sincerely apologized. And that saved them both.

    1. Ali says:

      Angela, this is it exactly. I heard an interview with a woman who had not consented to sex in college. She took no action. Twenty years later she was moved to contact the man who assaulted her. She explained how it had affected her. He apologised wholeheartedly and sincerely, and was clearly troubled by his actions, and had regretted them. She said a weight lifted from her. It changed everything that he was sorry.

      1. I’m so glad to hear both of them were able to find resolution.

      2. Ali says:

        Yes. I think the key ingredient was remorse, which shows empathy. The thing that has distressed me so much about the Brett Kavanaugh debacle is that he was completely unable to see beyond his own needs.

  16. Very cute and entertaining!

  17. Loved reading that. However much we take care of our furry friends there always seems to be a day when they escape. So glad they got back safely.

    1. Ali says:

      It’s true! I have been beating myself for letting them get out, and for them being so silly with rabbits. Neither of which I could control.

      1. I once took my bike and my dog to the park and came home without the dog!! I wouldnt feel bad these things just happen at times an it made for a great post.

  18. Ha ha this was so funny! Made me think of the time when ours were puppies and they dug up and bit the the “black snakes” (irrigation pipes). I’m told they don’t remember their sins, well not for as long as we do…. so we try and use a quick rebuke on-the-spot. Wish I can let ours loose on the wild rabbits next door 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Oh nooo! One of the things I struggle with is to reward the coming back when you want to rebuke them for running off!

  19. Before you admit to chasing rabbits….ask for a lawyer.

    1. Ali says:

      There were no eye witnesses. They may have merely been taking in the sights.

  20. Brilliant post! This is my first encounter finding your blog, but as a fellow dog person and gardener I will be back for sure.
    I don’t know if you’ve read “A Dog’s Purpose” but I think you’d like it. I know my Ella definitely feels remorse, and joy of course, being a Lab. Our GSP however, never regretted a rabbit or a chicken chase, or the box of donuts he once ate.

    1. Ali says:

      Oh no – a whole box of donuts is impressive and horrifying! I will look out for ‘A Dog’s Purpose’, thank you! I’m really pleased to hear that you have enjoyed reading my blog.

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