Do Dogs Get Embarrassed?

When you dress your dog up as Santa or an Elf, do you ever stop and think for a moment that maybe -- just maybe -- they feel stupid?

Well some experts believe that yep, your pupper may get a little bit red faced -- er, furred -- when you make them look foolish. Embarrassed, even.

So shame on you.

Just kidding -- how cute does this guy look?

But seriously, we all know dogs get happy and sad -- we've seen it in action when they're overjoyed to see us, missing their human companion or just SUPER excited to play with a ball.  So do they feel embarrassed sometimes?

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Dr. Marc Bekoff, a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado and author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, says yes. He has observed dogs for thousands of hours in his career and says that dogs do have feelings of “embarrassment, shyness and humiliation.”

Shame. Image: Getty

And he's not the only one.

"I believe most of us intuitively understand that dogs and cats have feelings. To me, those feelings include some form of embarrassment," says vet Ernie Ward.

Others believe that while we might not know if dogs definitely feel embarrassment, they do feel emotions that are at least similar to it.  Website Wag Walking says, "Because we can't just ask our pets if they're embarrassed, we can only go off of subtle behavior cues to try to determine how they feel."

They claim that signs of doggie embarrassment include submissive behavior, like tucking their tails, cowering, or hiding.

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"While it is hard to say for sure whether or not pets get embarrassed, there are certainly some indications they might," said Sydney's Animal Doctors' vet Dr Josie.

"A good example of this is when pets are unwell and have 'accidents' in the house. Owners often come in and say their pet looked upset or embarrassed from the mess they made."

"I have definitely experienced this with my own puppy when he knows he has done something he shouldn't have," she added

"But then again, maybe he just has me worked out and knows there is no way he can get into trouble when he gives me 'that face'!"

Surely this cat can't be happy. Image: Getty

However, animal expert Linda Cole says no, pets can't get embarrassed at all. She says scientists have determined that dogs have the same mental and emotional abilities as an 18-month-old human and can only feel basic emotions like joy, sadness, happiness and fear.

"With children, she said, "the ability to feel empathy and other secondary emotions doesn’t begin to emerge until they are around two years old. We know that dogs are capable of feeling empathy, but the common belief of researchers so far is that dogs can’t feel self-reflective emotions."

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You see, embarrassment is not the same type of emotion as happiness or sadness, it's a self-conscious emotion, one that is not processed automatically, but more complex because it requires self-evaluation. And dogs don't necessarily have that skill.

Still, many other researchers have come to one conclusion: we just don't know yet.

Dog trainer Molly Sumridge said, "I don’t think we’re there yet, scientifically or behaviorally. Too often, broad assumptions are made about complex emotions, when it’s really not that simple."

She added that labeling dog emotions without knowing for sure what they are can actually complicate your relationship with the dog, and warns against anthropomorphising, which is applying human emotions to an animal.

But what about applying human clothes, is that still ok? Molly? MOLLY?