To the producers of Good Morning America:
I realize the piece you did on Denver the Guilty Dog on your March 24th show was intended to be a cute, feel good piece about dogs that many dog owners would identify with. However, I believe it could have harmful consequences for dogs everywhere.
The contention I have with this piece is that a clear question is raised but never answered; do dogs feel guilt? A quick phone call and any certified behaviorist, ethologist, or trainer would have been glad to be on your show. I suspect it would have added about 30 seconds to the piece and would have been along the lines of the following:
Denver and all the dogs shown in the video clips are not showing guilt. They are trying to communicate in the only language they have, that they are feeling nervous and anxious and that they are not a threat. Their expressions and reactions are in direct relation to:
- The body language of the person holding the camera.
- The vocal tone of the person holding the camera.
- The camera itself which can be perceived by the dog as staring, an impolite and aggressive thing to do.
- Possibly the item of contention itself. Not because of guilt, but it’s associated with something unpleasant that has happened to them before.
The reason I believe this to be harmful is that if we believe dogs feel guilty, then they must understand that what they did was wrong. If they knew it was wrong and did it anyway, they are being willful and so punishment may be needed.
Perpetuating this myth is not only harmful and hurtful to dogs, it can also put their owners at risk should the dog begin to take issue with being punished for something it doesn’t understand.
I understand the need to have pieces like this one on your show and I am just as guilty as the next dog owner at seeing human like behaviors in my dogs. But I ask you to be a bit more responsible and follow through on the obvious questions raised by a piece like this. You had an opportunity to teach as well as entertain and you missed it. Please consider this the next time you do a piece like this.