How To Apologize To A Dog

woman gently apologizing to a dog

Even though you might consider your dog your best friend there might still be some communication barriers.  Although dogs understand a lot of what we do and say, we can’t exactly speak our minds to them and expect them to understand everything.  You definitely can’t text your dog or call them on the phone.  If you’ve done something to offend them, it might be hard to figure out just how to say sorry.

Today we’re here to discuss how to apologize to a dog.

It’s not clear if a dog can truly understand and associate an apology with an event.  However, if you’ve hurt your dog in some way, it’s a great idea to try and make it up to them.  You should try speaking gently and petting them, but don’t offer treats as a way to say sorry. 

Apologizing to a dog is complicated because we’re just not sure how much they really understand.  Below, we’ll do a deep dive into dog emotions and talk about how you can make it up to your dog the next time you step on their tail.

How Can You Tell If A Dog Is Offended?

Do dogs get offended?

It seems like they do!  Have you ever stepped on your dog’s tail and received a look of betrayal?  Or maybe you took their favorite toy and hid it from them and they stared intently at you.  Dogs can feel fear, anxiety, stress, and anger.  It’s hard to pinpoint the extent of these feelings and what effect they have on a dog’s mental state but there’s no denying that your dog feels emotions in their own way.

Your dog can get offended or upset by an event.  They can also take that feeling of offense and turn it into a more long-term issue that eventually creates anxiety or fear over an event.  The best way to read if your dog is offended is to observe their body language.

Check Your Dog’s Body Language

Body language is everything in dog and human interactions.

Since pups can’t use words to tell us no, they’ll do other things.   If your dog is offended or upset you can tell just by looking at them.  Dogs that are upset scared or offended will flatten their ears back or down.  They’ll tuck their tail under their legs and look up at you with large eyes.  In extreme cases, they might start to tremble and get down on the ground.

Being able to read your dog’s body language is an essential skill as a dog owner.  NOt only will you be able to notice when they’re upset, you’ll also be able to tell if they;re in pain or about to get into a fight with another dog in the house (something you’d want to know especially if you have two male dogs)!

So, what can make your dog feel resentment toward you?

Why Your Dog Might Get Upset At You

There are almost an infinite number of reasons that your dog might get upset with you but simply getting tired of you isn’t likely to be one of them.

All dogs are different and some may take offense to things you might not even realize.

Hurting your dog is one sure way to upset them.  If you step on a paw or tail it’s going to hurt and they’re going to feel betrayed.  You might also upset or offend your dog when you bring new people or animals into their home.

Taking them to the vet or giving them a nail trim might cause them to have some negative feelings toward you.   You might even scare them with a loud noise that makes them suddenly suspicious of you.

Some dogs are more sensitive than others, just like people are.  It’s important to recognize when you’ve offended your pup and how to prevent it from happening in the future if you can.

Should You Apologize To A Dog?

So, we know that a dog can get upset.  But, can they understand an apology?

Dog makes associations between actions and reactions.  They can definitely associate nail clippers with a nail trim and a leash with a walk.  It’s harder to tell how well dogs can understand the connection between an event and our reactions.

I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say you have a puppy and your puppy peed on the carpet inside.  Your puppy doesn’t know that it did something bad.  You notice that your puppy peed inside and so you take them over to the pee and tell them “No,” by the pee spot.

If you’ve ever potty trained a puppy you probably know where I’m going.  This kind of disciplinary action doesn’t necessarily work for puppies.  It’s hard for them to make the between the pee and your anger.  They might even end up thinking that you’re yelling at them because they came to you when you called and just might end up confused.

Training conversations aside, you can see how an apology also might get lost in translation with a dog.

If you don’t apologize in the right way, they might not really understand what’s going on.  However, there are a few things that you can do to make sure that your dog gets the loving message from you!

How To Say Sorry To A Dog

To avoid the puppy pee scenario above, you’re going to need to be intentional with your apology to make sure your pup understands what you’re saying!  But don’t worry, even if your apology isn’t perfect, your dog will still appreciate your kindness and love.

1. Figure Out What You Did Wrong

The first thing you’ll need to do when apologizing to your dog is to figure out what you did wrong.

It might be really obvious what you did to upset your dog.  They might have an instantaneous reaction to something like a yelp and then run away.  But, if you don’t pay attention you might miss the signs.  If you want to apologize to your dog watch for signs that they’re upset.  And, when you start to figure out what’s making them resentful, you can try to work on it. We’ll talk about ways to keep your dog from getting upset with you below.

2. Timing Is Everything

As soon as you know why your dog is upset, you can start to make amends.

The faster that you start to make amends, the better!  Any sort of delay between the upsetting event and your apology is only going to confuse things more.  It’s easy to understand that time passes differently for dogs.  They live shorter lives and minutes might feel like hours to them.  If you wait a few minutes to tell your dog sorry, it will be difficult for them to understand why you’re saying sorry.

So, try to apologize as soon as you notice that you’ve upset your pup.

3. Speak Gently With Them

Now, let’s talk about how you can actually say sorry to your dog.

Your tone of voice is extremely important when communicating with your dog.   You probably already know that when you speak to your pup with excitement, they get excited too!  On the other hand, when you speak to your dog with a stern voice, they slow down and become sheepish.  If your dog is hurt or upset, you’re going to want to speak in soft gentle tones with them.

Don’t use a high-pitched voice because it might over-excite them.  Speak softly and gently.  The words you use aren’t necessarily as important as the tone of your voice.  So you can tell your dog”come here” and “I’m sorry” as long as you’re calm and comforting.

4. Pet Them And Be Close To Them

Another great way to tell your dog sorry is to comfort them with physical touch.

Did you know that dogs are hardwired to like physical proximity?  This goes way back to wolf instincts and pack mentality.  A great example of this affinity today is puppies.  A litter of puppies will always sleep close together.  Not only is this a tactic to keep them warm but it also keeps the puppies relaxed and calm.

The way dogs feel about touch explains so much about the way they interact with us and how we can interact with them!  It explains why your dog lays close to you and why they love to be pet.

You can use touch to say sorry to your dog.  Petting them and being close to them will help to comfort them and calm them down.   Many dogs crave the touch of their owners and will push their heads into your hands when they want a scratch!  Use this to your advantage as a way to tell your dog you’re sorry and that everything is going to be okay.

But Don’t Pet Them Too Hard!

To comfort your dog, be close to them, but not too close!  If you’ve actually hurt your dog, touching them is not the best thing for you to do.  Petting an injury could cause your dog to react in a negative way toward your attention.  They might run away or try to bite your hand to keep you away from the spot that’s bothering them.  Dogs in pain might even scream out when their injury is bothered!  So, be close, but maybe not too close!

5. Try To Avoid Using Treats

One thing that you might be tempted to do with your dog is to use treats to apologize.

Treats have their place, but an apology isn’t a good time to use them!  Treats are more than just your dog’s favorite snack.  Treats are a way to communicate with your pet.  You can use treats to reward good behavior and to tell your pup that they’ve done the right thing!  Because treats are so incentivizing, you don’t want to use them in the wrong situations.

When you give a dog a treat during an apology, it might encourage your dog to be extra dramatic the next time something happens.  It’s the same idea as a child crying more because they know they get held when they cry out.

So, even though it might be tempting, try not to give your furry friend treats when you’re saying sorry.

How To Avoid Upsetting Your Dog

The only way to make sure your dog isn’t upset is to avoid upsetting them in the first place.

A dog apology should work, but there’s no guarantee your dog will forgive you for whatever you did to them.

If you accidentally upset your dog by stepping on its foot or tail, there isn’t much you can do to avoid this situation.  Your dog probably gets under your feet without you realizing it and the injury is truly an accident.  But, if you’ve upset your dog by doing something to them, you can find ways to make that situation less scary for them next time.

Desensitization Training

Desensitization training is one of the ways that you can make sure you won’t need to apologize to your dog again.

Desensitization training involves taking an upsetting object or scenario and making it less upsetting.  Basically, a “sensitive” thing becomes desensitized, get it?

So, how do you do this?

Let’s say that your dog is upset from a nail trim.  They’re looking at you with sad eyes and don’t trust you anymore.  You can try to work on desensitizing the nail trim.  What you’ll do is first starts to get your dog used to the nail clippers by leaving them out on the table.  Then, you’ll start to give your dog treats when they’re near the nail clippers.  Next, you’ll trim one nail and reward your dog heavily after the trim.  This process continues until your dog is actually looking forward to a nail trim.  The video below shows another example of desensitization training.

Even though desensitization training can take anywhere from days to months to years, it’s worth it!  Once you get your puppy used to the things they’re afraid of, you won’t have any more reasons to make constant dog apologies.

Final Thoughts

Apologizing to your dog is both complicated and simple.  Really, a dog apology is just some kind words and attention from you toward your pet.

But, it goes a little deeper than that!  Since we’re not sure whether dogs can fully understand and accept apologies, we also need to try to understand the cause of the upset and try to keep it from happening again. On the other side of things, it’s also unlikely that they understand when they’ve offended us which could be a good or bad thing.

But, as long as you have good intentions, you shouldn’t have any issues getting you dog to forgive you the next time you do something wrong.

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