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Pet Shaming: Harmless or Heartless?

The practice originated with a Tumblr founded in August of 2012, focusing specifically on dogs. The Tumblr began with a simple example of "dog shaming" and quickly took off from there. Less than a week passed before the blog began to receive media attention from MSN and online publications. Other blogs began dedicated to expanding the trend from shaming dogs to shaming pets of all kinds.

With its growing popularity, countless pet owners contributed to the craze with photos of their own pets. Though this created innumerable images that were both adorable and hysterical, it resulted in a lot of pets expressing the same wide-eyed face. But that's the goal of pet shaming after all- to make your pet feel ashamed for its actions. However, according to experts, this look might not indicate feelings of shame at all.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

A study performed by Bernard College in New York in 2012 supports Siracusa's argument and indicates that it's far more likely that your dog is scared, not sorry.

Behavior expert Carlo Siracusa argues that dogs in pet shaming photographs feel afraid- not guilty. This argument makes sense, considering how well dogs pick up on the emotions of their owners. When owners discover that their dog has done something bad- their anger and vindictive intentions cause a fearful reaction. This reaction then appears to be guilt for their recent misdeeds.

A study performed by Bernard College in New York in 2012 supports Siracusa's argument and indicates that it's far more likely that your dog is scared, not sorry. The study evaluated the reaction of dogs to punishment under two different conditions: one in which the dog had transgressed against a particular rule and one in which they had not. In both scenarios, owners punished their dog as though they had eaten the food. Dogs in both scenarios expressed the same reaction to punishment.

This result shows that the reaction of these dogs is not caused by guilt or remorse- but is instead caused by the angry disposition of their owners. The study did find, however, that if dogs transgressed they do appear to feel guilty. Guilty dogs differed from their innocent counterparts not in their initial reaction to their owner's reprimands but in their behavior after the punishment.

Don't Shame Pets- Teach them Right From Wrong

Siracusa states that the fearful reaction of pets is intended to calm their owner and that the animal often does not know why their owner is upset. So then, if pets are being punished without knowing why then the practice essentially amounts to scaring pets. Shaming pets does not discourage bad behavior- it only offers a cathartic sense of justice to misguided owners. Instead of fear-mongering when pets misbehave, owners should look to train them traditionally.

In a world where we publicly shame our pets for the amusement of strangers- maybe we should take a look at ourselves before deciding who should be ashamed of themselves.

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