Why guilty dogs really do put their tails between their legs - it is actually 'an apology bow', says New York college

Telegraph Reporters
puppy looking guilty after tearing down wallpaper - www.alamy.com

Dogs are aware when they have done something wrong and the guilty look they have afterwards is actually known as an 'apology bow', a New York College has found.

Pets hang their head and puts their tails between their legs because they want to look submissive to their owners, a dog behaviour expert at John Jay College revealed.

Dogs inherited this behaviour from wolves as they 'crave harmonious integration' and find that 'neglect or isolation is painful for them', said Nathan Lents.

By using the 'apology bow' they are telling you that you are the more powerful one and that they have done something wrong.

Dog owners will be all too familiar with the look dogs give when they have chewed up furniture or shoes or knocked something over.

Professor Lents, a professor of molecular biology at John Jay College in New York, wrote about the concept in a blog post on online magazine Psychology Today.

Dog looking guilty on ripped dog bed  Credit: Alamy

He said that it is a "very interesting phenomenon that goes far beyond the dog-human relationship and actually reveals quite about the nature of communication itself"

Whilst it may seem a trivial motion, the expert, who has written a book on animal behaviour, said it is actually more complex than you might think.

Professor Lents wrote: "Dogs have inherited this behaviour and they will use it after any kind of infraction that results in being punished.

"As social animals, they crave harmonious integration in the group and neglect or isolation is painful for them".

Professor Lents said that young wolves first display the apology bow when they begin to learn social integration with other wolves.

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When a wolf bites too hard during play he is shunned for a time and must approach the group with an apology bow before they are readmitted.

Dogs have inherited this behaviour and when they are too rough with their owners they do exactly the same thing.

Professor Lents wrote: "The head hangs low, panting or smiling stops, eye-contact is avoided, and they literally put their tail between their legs. So which is it - is the wolf (or dog) indicating apology or submission?

"Well, both. This action is a 'borrowed signal' because it can mean different things in different contexts.

"In a sense, an apology is indeed an expression of submission. Nothing could be more submissive than that. In fact, dominant dogs and wolves rarely issue apologies (just like dominant humans!) and lower-ranking ones must apologize for even the slightest infraction".

Professor Lents said that in humans signals for apologies are less about submission and are more about affiliation, which is why people shake hands after resolving a dispute.

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