Dogs may be man’s (and woman’s) best friend, but even best pals have disputes sometimes. You may notice your dog pouting, not interacting with you, avoiding snuggle time or just being overall aloof. And you wonder, Is my dog mad at me?
While you can easily interpret your human friend’s emotions, it’s a bit more difficult to do the same with your pooch. Moreover, you simply can’t ask your pup if everything is okay.
So, can dogs actually get mad at us? Here’s exactly what you need to know.
Do Dogs Get Mad?
When it comes to feelings and emotions, you’re not just projecting. Dogs really do have them.
Your dog’s emotional development caps around that of a 2-year-old child. This means that canines can feel basic emotions, including joy, anxiety, love and fear.
But what about anger? Can your pooch actually get mad at you? While it is possible for dogs to get upset, they don’t get “mad” at their owners in the way you may think. Dogs feel emotions; they can’t assign a motive to that emotion. So, while your pet may be upset, she’s not silently cursing you.
Moreover, anger isn’t something dogs are likely to feel. Rather, what we often interpret as anger is typically aggression from a dog that feels threatened or fearful in some way.
“Dogs are most often aggressive because they are fearful rather than spiteful or ‘angry,’” says Dr. Rachel Malamed, a veterinary behavioral specialist in Los Angeles. “Aggressive behaviors such as growling, snarling, snapping, or biting are normal behaviors that serve as distance increasing signals toward a perceived threat.”
So, when a child hugs a dog or pulls on their ears or tail and a dog growls, the dog isn’t “mad” at them. Rather, their aggression is motivated by fear and anxiety.
How Can I Tell if My Dog Is Mad at Me?
Dogs live in the moment and express emotions as they experience them. If they’re upset with you, they’ll let you know right away.
“A dog may show distance increasing signs when they are annoyed, fearful or anxious. Some dogs will display avoidance behaviors such as hiding or moving away or body postures such as pinning the ears back, tucking the tail, cowering, shaking, yawning, or licking their lips,” Dr. Malamed says.
Others may exhibit warning signs such as “whale” eye, growling, snarling, snapping and ultimately biting defensively if their previous warning signs were ignored.
How Can I Avoid Making My Dog Upset?
You’ll know if she’s upset by her body language.
“If your dog shows subtle signs of fear or avoidance in response to a certain type of interaction, then it is best to respect their space and avoid the trigger so that trust is not diminished,” Dr. Malamed says.
She recommends avoiding punishment or confrontational training techniques as these have been shown to increase fear and aggression.
“Use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and treats. Create structured, predictable interactions using commands so that the dog knows what to expect and reward desirable behavior,” she said.
One training program, known as “Nothing in Life is Free,” involves pet owners asking their dog to do something before giving them a treat. Soon, the dog will automatically fulfill their requests in anticipation for the tasty tidbit. “This also helps to build trust and strengthen the human-animal-bond,” Dr. Malamed says.
Will My Dog Forgive Me?
Your dog may forgive you, but she will most likely not forget.
“The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for fear memory. These fear memories are what make your dog tremble the moment you start the car or drive into the parking lot of your veterinary clinic; it’s because of a past negative or painful experience,” says Dr. Malamed. “So, it is not so much about ‘forgiveness’ as it is about retraining the brain and modifying these neural pathways of fear that have developed.”
Depending upon what the stimulus was and individual factors, including genetics and temperament, your pet’s memory of the event may have a lasting effect. With repeated exposure, the dog may become more fearful and anxious if exposed to or anticipating that stimulus.
“If the stimulus is mild, some dogs will ‘forget’ and not be significantly impacted by the event. Other dogs, particularly those who visit my practice, require behavior modification in the form of systematic desensitization and counterconditioning, sometimes in combination with anti-anxiety medications to help change fearful reactions to a variety of stimuli or people,” says Dr. Malamed.
She encourages dog parents to learn their pooch’s subtle body language and recognize triggers. This will help you to change or modify interactions to make it a more positive experience for your pup.
“Adjusting our goals and expectations of our pets is a key element of pet ownership and good welfare practices,” she says.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Rachel Malamed.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice.