If you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ve already seen it: the face a dog makes when it knows it did something that will upset you. Big eyes, bowed head. We recognize it as a dog being guilty, and it is the cutest thing in the world!
But there is actually a scientific explanation to this behavior. According to a study by Nathan H. Lents, a molecular biologist with the City of University of New York, they have inherited the trait from their wolf relatives.
Wolves are social creatures needing the approval of its peers to feel accepted. When a playful wolf bites too hard, it will be spurned by the pack for bad behavior, and in order to return and be accepted again, the wolf must approach with an apology bow.
Dogs will do the same thing after it felt it is being punished. Lents wrote, “As social animals, they crave harmonious integration in the group and neglect or isolation is painful for them.”
A dog will do its apologetic bow regardless of whether it disobeyed or not, as long as it feels it is being punished. So the gesture is more of an apology rather than showing a feeling of guilt. Lents summarizes it as a dog’s way of saying, “Can we be friends again?”