Do dogs hold grudges?

Mary Nielson provides the answer

Yesterday lunchtime was a very stressful period. Because I was speaking to various members of the family in England but especially to my sister, Eleanor, who had come over from South Africa to be with my mother, and to Rose, my cousin, who lives in Baldock, Hertfordshire, and is being so supportive.

In the middle of all of this Brandy came across to the low table where the remains of my lunchtime sandwich were still on my plate and started helping himself. I was striding around the room speaking to Eleanor and when I spotted Brandy eating my lunch I really showed my anger. I shouted “No!” and prodded him hard in the back. Brandy slunk off giving me a really foul look.

Fifteen minutes later Jean and I took the dogs outside for their regular ‘after-lunch’ leg-stretch and Brandy kept his distance from me. I went across to Brandy: “Oh, Brandy! I am so sorry for being cross with you  Please forgive me.” There was real remorse in my voice and, undoubtedly, showing on my face too.

Brandy came over to me and nestled his wonderful, beautiful head against my thighs and I curled down and rubbed his chest with my left hand. As simply and as quickly as it could ever be, Brandy had forgiven me.

A short while ago I was approached by a Mary Neilsen who asked me if I would like her to write a post for Learning from Dogs. I agreed and in hindsight I am so pleased I did.

Read her wonderful post and you will understand why!

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Is Your Dog Holding a Grudge?

Your dog throws you that look – you know the one – and walks away. You’ve been snubbed! So what is causing this emotional outburst? Maybe your canine pal is holding a grudge.

What have I done now?” you might ask yourself. Depending on the circumstances, you may not be guilty of anything. You may just be misinterpreting that look – or yes, indeed, your furry friend may be paying you back for some grievance.

No pet owner is perfect. We all make mistakes. We accidentally step on our pet’s tail; take away a favorite toy; or abandon them to a night alone in the house. These are things that can set our dog to turn their backs on us to teach us a lesson – if only for a little while. But is it true? Do dogs really hold grudges?

The Experts Say No

If you live with guilt every time your furry friend gives you a sideways look, you are reading too much into it, say the experts. They don’t hold grudges and they don’t act in petty ways or seek revenge. [Ed: The dogs that is not the ‘experts’! Sorry; couldn’t resist!] Their emotional lives are not as complicated as humans. Dogs are more simple creatures. They live in the moment.

According to famed canine expert Cesar Millan, dogs don’t hold long-term grudges simply because they can’t. They don’t think that way. Sure, they may act miffed now, but will soon forget what’s bothering them and move past it.

People, on the other hand, tend to hold onto negative feelings and expressing that kind of anger or anxiety can make your dog react too. In other words, if you express prolonged feelings of guilt over slamming your dog’s paw in the screen door, he may react by steering clear. It is not the action that is causing him to distance himself from you for a while; it’s your reaction to the event. In other words, it is your angst causing him to act this way.

What We Can Learn From Our Dogs

There may be some who still believe dogs can (and do) hold grudges, while research shows this assumption incorrect. Even so, there is one thing most canine psychological experts agree on and it is that we can learn an important lesson from our canine counterparts: how to let go.

Humans have a really hard time letting go of our grievances. In a recent Gallop poll, more than two thirds of participants acknowledged the importance of forgiveness, yet less than half actually were able to forgive those who hurt them. That equals a lot of grudge holding going on.

While our dogs move past every infraction, humans tend to hold on, dwelling on our hurts and allowing them to rule our lives. This can cause relational issues; depression, or worse. But, when we take after our dogs and let go of those negative feelings we can experience such benefits as:

  • Happier Lives
  • Healthier relationships
  • Less anxiety and stress
  • Lower blood pressure & Heart rate
  • Stronger immune system

[Ed: read the Mayo Clinic article here about forgiveness that Mary referred to above.]

Take a look at your dog. He seems happy enough. Wouldn’t you like to be able to experience the kind of true joy and relaxation he does? The trick to that kind of contentment is learning how to let go of those grudges and live in the moment.

Yes, people are going to hurt us. That is simply life. But those hurts do not have to cause you chronic pain. Take a cue from your dog. Allow yourself to feel the pain in the moment, and then move on. You will discover that life is a lot more enjoyable that way.

About the Author

img-1102 Mary Nielsen is a passionate dog lover, blogger and part-time music teacher. She founded MySweetPuppy.net to share her ups and downs of being a pet parent to a bunch of adorable mutts. When she is not playing with them or teaching, you can find her experimenting in the kitchen.

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Please join with me in thanking Mary for such a delightful guest post and hoping that we will be reading more from her.

31 thoughts on “Do dogs hold grudges?

  1. Nice post, Paul and Mary. I took a course in the brain a while back and learned that while humans have prefrontal lobes wherein resides our impulse control and conscience, dogs have none. So, Brandy was being a healthy pup seeking out your low lying sandwich. The fault, if any, was yours for leaving it within reach. It’s good that you apologized to Brandy for your anger. Between the two of you, you were the offender for leaving food within reach that you didn’t want Brandy to eat. Think about how often we humans punish dogs for such ‘offenses’ when, in fact, it is our fault for not being more careful.

    1. Thank you for your kind response. I think in reality that dogs can display anger or an emotion very close to what we humans see as anger. For example the behaviour of a dog in the face of a perceived threat from a stranger or unknown sound. But very quickly we are drawn into the subtleties around the edges of what each emotion is, the overlaps between those emotions and how well we humans understand the mind of the dog.
      Fascinating stuff and part of my motivation for writing my second book about dogs.

  2. An interesting read from Mary and I’m going over to her site now to read more of what she writes about.
    We do tend to put our own human emotions onto animals (perhaps to help us understand them more?) I’m not sure, but I do know that we should be more like dogs and live in the moment….it leads to a much less stressful life, and a happier one!

    1. Barb, I have mentioned to Mary via email that we would all enjoy more articles from her. Completely agree about how we too often overlay our own emotions on to our dogs, and that living in the moment is such a simple, wonderful concept but, boy oh boy, so difficult in practice. Thank you for your input! Have a wonderful weekend.

  3. It is my experience that dogs hold Memories, not Grudges. I don’t think they’re wired for it. It’s taken our most recent rescue, Lucy, nearly 5 years *not* to flinch at a rolled up newspaper which our Lab always has enjoyed as a game. I pick up the paper from the box, tap him on the head with it, and he gets all feisty/growly and playful. Lucy can now be gently tapped on the head and she doesn’t shrink to the ground. It’s progress. 😉

      1. Thanks, Paul. I do have Petey the horse stories, as well. Balance issues and abusive farriers, not understanding. Finally, husband Chris simply learned the art of the rasp and all was well for the duration of this magnificent animal’s life ❤

  4. I really enjoyed Mary’s post. If only I could move past things like my dog but that is something I am constantly working on. People love Cesar Millan and I know that he helps thousands of pet parents with their furry kids but he feels that dogs are property. While our dogs have been a part of our pack, they have also been a part of our family and not our property.

  5. Wonderful post Paul and Loved reading Mary’s post too.. And yes oh to live in a Dogs world and know forgiveness and be forgiven.. 🙂 Far too many people I know carry grudges around with them which taint their lives and perspectives.. excellent post again Paul

  6. First off, thanks Paul and all the others for the kind words and thoughts a few weeks ago for Peggy Sue. The remaining three kids are still showing a few signs of trying to figure who’s on first sort of thing with Peggy gone. Always a little funny and interesting to watch. Yes I agree, after many decades of having dogs in my life and simply observing, they do seem to live in the moment. However, they or some, can get feelings hurt with even a slight reprimand for the simplest thing. Such is the case with our Corgi Jake. He can be a bit noisy, and will bark at anything. We think after he came to live with us on the ranch a couple of years ago, he ‘found his voice’, so to speak, and from time to time, he is told to be quiet.

    This is not done by us yelling or screaming, just a little more reinforcement behind the tone. He will slowly look at us with a very ‘I can’t believe you said that to me look in in his eyes, turn away and waddle off to a corner. He will stay in this corner until one of us approaches him and ‘ makes up’ if you will. Very funny indeed.

    The longest we have waited to ‘make up’ is about three hours. We don’t have time to see it through. So whatever one wishes to make of prefrontal lobes or lack of, some four legged beings, large or small, will give us a run for our money in the psychology department, which again, is all too amusing if one takes the time to enjoy just watching and being with them.

    Peter

  7. Love this article Paul. They really do sense the energy and our intention, even if they can’t understand the words. 💛
    By the way, I used to live in the village of Therfield – between Baldock and Royston. I just got a flashback when I read your post.

    1. Yet science is discovering that dogs do understand a range of words, especially key words. I reported that in an earlier post and have recently been given permission by the AAAS to publish the results, something I will be doing this week.

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