Do dogs get sad when you yell at them?

Dear Doggy,

I was having a really bad day yesterday and I yelled at my dog. I’ve never done that before and she looked at me with the saddest eyes. Do dogs really get sad when you yell at them?

Regretting a Mistake

Dear Regretting,

Dogs are capable of feeling negative emotions such as sadness and disappointment when humans yell at them. Canines derive pleasure from knowing they made their humans happy, so yelling tells them they did poorly in this regard. They express their sadness by visible signs in their facial expression, body language, and behavioral changes.  

We all have done it at some point and quickly regretted it afterward: we angrily shouted at our dogs. Maybe we had a rough day and our beloved pooch did something naughty like tore up the furniture or peed on the carpet.

How do we know that we made our furry friend sad with our yelling? They typically display these signs:

  • Sad or squinty eyes
  • Scowling face
  • Downcast demeanor
  • Whimpering

Why should we avoid yelling at our dogs as much as possible? 

  1. Yelling is NOT an effective training method. A mutt does not understand the words that we are screaming. So even if we think we are clearly telling her what they did wrong, she will not know it and probably do it again.  
  2. Yelling can harm the dog’s emotions and learning skills. Negative reinforcement is found to have long-term effects on a dog’s responses and ability to master new skills. Dogs that are constantly yelled at are slower and more cynical compared to dogs that are reward-based.
  3. Yelling can be interpreted as encouragement. If a dog is barking loudly and you shout at her to make her stop, she might interpret it as you barking with her, making her more excited. 
  4. Yelling can impact the dog’s health. Sad dogs also experience lasting stress. This may cause them to stop eating their meals regularly or lose energy to exercise. 

How do dogs feel when you yell at them?

We sometimes wonder if our pooches get mad at us. How do they feel when we yell at them? 

Yelling at your dog can cause a variety of negative emotions ranging from confusion, excitement, sadness, to anxiety and fear. Besides yelling, you should avoid other punishment-driven methods such as delaying discipline, dominantly staring down, and using pain as a way of correcting bad behavior.

Studies and experiments with dogs reveal they experience the following emotions when we yell at them:

  • Confusion – Even if you loudly verbalize what she had done wrong, your pup will not fully comprehend what you are saying. She sees your angry face and tensed body movements and may be totally confused.
  • Misplaced enthusiasm – Calling her name in a ringing voice can be confused with excited yelping. Your dog might think you actually like what she is doing and be thrilled to do it more.
  • Sadness – Your furry buddy loves you very much and would do anything to please you. Yelling at her makes her feel like she failed you and will sulk about it.
  • Anxiety – Dogs who have been yelled at are found to have high cortisol levels or “stress hormones”. They display it by lip licking, yawning, and whimpering.
  • Fear – Mutts with past traumas of physical abuse associate yelling to hitting. Even puppies may develop fear and distrust if exposed to too much shouting.

Apart from yelling, steer clear from these training methods:

  1. Delaying discipline. – If your dog’s naughty act happened hours ago, and only now that you yelled at her, she will not make the connection. On-the-spot correction is more effective. 
  2. Dominantly staring down. – Canines consider it a threat if we maintain steady eye contact especially if we are towering over them. 
  3. Using pain. – Physically hurting your dog is cruel and never productive. They will eventually lose trust and become aggressive towards you or others.

Do dogs remember if you yell at them?

Although our dogs mean the world to us, we are guilty of yelling at them at times. Do dogs remember these instances? 

Generally, dogs quickly forget one-time incidents of yelling if you make amends by lovingly petting them and speaking in a calm, sweet voice. But habitual screaming in an angry tone impresses fear and aggression to the canines’ memory. Abused dogs with a long-term recollection of past traumas can still recover if placed in a loving, safe environment.

Pups are pretty good at remembering things related to their survival such as their owners, their home, and where do you keep their food. But most mutts live in the moment and therefore don’t retain every little detail of their day. How about when we yell at them? 

Canines have the ability to retain significant memories that caused them intense emotions such as excitement or anxiety. But their emotional capacity is not advanced enough to feel guilt or grudge. 

So, if you yelled at your pup once or a few times in your long years of friendship, it is not likely that she remembers it and is still mad about it. It is more expected of dogs to “forgive and forget”.

Combining the dogs’ relatively short memory with their loving and forgiving attitude, it is easy to make up with your pup by gently stroking her and reassuring her in a kind, gentle tone.

It is a different story when a dog is exposed to continuous and repetitive abuse of yelling and hitting. She will eventually become fearful of you and doubt your love for her. It can also negatively affect her interaction with other humans.

However, many foster pet parents succeed in turning an angry and anxious rescue dog into its normal cheery self if constantly showered with care and attention.  

How to tell your dog you’re sorry

Saying ‘sorry’ is one of the hardest words to say, especially to your precious pup. How do you exactly go about it?

The key is to apologize immediately after you upset them with your yelling or actions. Your calm, mild tone of voice will make more sense to your dog than actual words, then combine it with mild brushing of their fur. For dogs that are badly hurt, it is best to talk to them from a distance and wait for them to initiate contact. 

If we accidentally hurt our lovable mutts, there are still ways to preserve the wonderful connection we have with them:

  1. Apologize immediately. Dogs don’t hold grudges, so they can literally “forget” what you did that upset them. So if you stepped on their tail as you rushed toward the door in the morning but only apologized in the afternoon, it will only confuse them.
  2. Use a calm, mild tone. Intelligent as they are, canines don’t understand many words we use like “sorry”. It is more crucial to be calm and mild in speaking as dogs can pick up our emotions through our tone.
  3. Softly pet them. Paired with a gentle tone, soothing strokes can work wonders in letting your pup know that everything is going to be alright.
  4. Give badly hurt dogs some space. If the dog is extremely hurt and retreated to a corner, don’t immediately follow her to reconcile. She might think you purposely wanted to harm her and see you as a threat. Call out to her first in a kind voice and let her come to you. 
  5. Shower with attention, not treats. If you keep giving treats as a way of apologizing, your pooch might mistake it as a reward for good behavior. Play with her instead or take her for a walk.

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