Can You Hurt a Dog’s Feelings? Best Advice on Keeping a Happy Dog

A wagging tail lets you know that your dog is happy. But can you hurt a dog’s feelings? How would a dog show you that it is upset?

can you hurt a dog's feelings
Can dogs get sad? Can you hurt a dog’s feelings?

A lot of dog owners find themselves asking these questions. Dogs may not be able to communicate with their owners through words. They can, however, tell us through the power of body language. 

For example, a play bow lets you know your puppy is ready to play –  while tucking the tail between the dog’s legs is a sign of fear.  

The short answer to this question is yes, you can hurt your dog’s feelings. 

Dogs spend their entire lives being surrounded by their humans. As dog owners, how you act towards your dogs leaves a significant impact, whether emotionally or physically. 

Your dogs may not be capable of feeling the same way as humans would, but dogs can still feel happy, sad, or hurt.

Dogs and Feelings

A dog’s emotion is not as complex compared to humans. In addition to that, dogs experience a relatively limited range of emotions.

However, this does not mean dogs do not experience emotion at all. Dogs are still capable of feeling emotions such as happiness, fear, sadness, and jealousy.

For example, dogs can actually develop mistrustfear, and hostility if exposed to a hostile, cruel environment. There are actually videos circulating online of dogs who have been living under toxic conditions, and you can see its effects on dogs.  

These dogs who may have been affected by these conditions tend to cower themselves in one corner and avoid human contact. This indicates that the dog may have developed fear and mistrust over time. 

According to research cited in this article from Psychology Today, dogs experience similar emotions the same way a 2-year-old child experiences.

At first, it was believed in the past that dogs could not experience real emotions. In fact, scholars in history thought that dogs were similar to machines filled with biological parts.

Eventually, it was discovered that dogs actually do have similar brain structures that process emotions in humans. Dogs also release the same hormones as humans when experiencing emotions. 

For example, dogs produce the hormone oxytocin, the attachment hormone, when you pet your dog or cuddle with your dog. Another fun fact is that dogs actually prefer smiling faces because of this hormone as well. 

Your dog can feel a variety of emotions the same way humans do, but can not actually perceive what humans consider to be shame or pride. Feel free to make your dog wear silly things and funny hats (or even a pirate eye patch for a small dog). Your dogs won’t really feel embarrassed at all.

Do dogs have night vision? Learn how well dogs can see in the dark.


Ways you unintentionally do that hurt your dog’s feelings.

You finally have the answer to the question, “Can you hurt a dog’s feelings?” We know the answer is yes – but it gets a little more complicated.

Abusing or hitting a dog is horrible, awful behavior that is against the law. But it is other behaviors that are more subtle that can unknowingly upset a dog and hurt its feelings.

“What do you do unintentionally that may hurt your dog’s feelings?” 

As dog owners, you treat your dogs like family and do not want to mistreat your dogs. 

However, without your knowledge, you may be doing something to your dog that causes emotional scarring. 

Part of our responsibilities as dog owners is to understand your dog’s emotions and address your dog’s needs. Your behavior has a significant impact on your pup, especially actions that may result in emotional harm.

To understand your dog better, here are some of the ways you are hurting your dog’s feelings without even knowing.

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Depriving your dog of attention and affection

When a dog climbs on your lap or tries to be affectionate in general and push your dog away or ignore your dog, you unknowingly hurt your dog’s feelings

If you find yourself continually ignoring or rejecting your dog’s affection or attempts to get attention, it may severely impact your dog’s love for you. This can impact your overall relationship with your pup.

It is essential for you to keep in mind that your dog’s world revolves around you. Your dogs depend on you for their needs like food, happiness, love, and other essential requirements for the dog’s survival.

If you think about it, your dogs spent their entire lives surrounded by you, the dog owner. Your dogs depend on you for their happiness and their survival.

By nature, dogs thrive on interaction and just being social in general. Isolating your dog or depriving them of attention can lead to lasting emotional scars and depression.

Not spending enough time with your dog

As mentioned in the previous point, dogs are social creatures. Since they are related to wolves, dogs typically need to be around their pack, which, in this case, it’s you. Your dogs heavily rely on your presence, attention, and affection.

This is why even active and healthy dogs like Bernedoodles or Labradoodles cannot live outside alone.

Allowing more time to spend with your dog will make your relationship with your dog better. Your dogs’ level of happiness will increase, and, generally, your dogs will love you more. Who wouldn’t want that?

You can spend time with your dogs in many ways. For example, you can allow 10 minutes of your time playing fetch with your dog. 

A walk with your dog is also a great way to spend time with your dog and even a great way of getting fit, which kills two birds in one stone.

You can even just cuddle with your dog on the couch while watching your favorite TV show (our dog Max does not like it when a dog appears on the screen, though!)

There are many ways to spend time and bond with your dogs. There are dozens of easy DIY indoor dog games and activities you could try. It’s just a matter of setting aside time and putting all your attention on your dogs. 

Not understanding your dogs’ fears

Believe it or not, dogs experience fear. Aside from that, there are dog owners who punish or laugh at their dogs for experiencing fear, which is unbelievable and incorrect.

If you find yourself doing this unintentionally, it’s time to stop this habit. 

Dogs may have specific fears about the weirdest things. For example, dogs can be afraid of thunder or skateboards.

Some dogs are afraid of the vacuum cleaner and even a specific floor covering. Also, I know some dogs who don’t like the sound of airplanes. This can make life tricky if you live near a flight path!

Your dogs can show these fears through body language. Dogs can react by cowering in a corner or small spaces in your house. This also hides beneath tables, under your bed, or in a specific corner of your living room.

Even though dogs can see well at night time – some dogs are actually scared of the dark.

In addition to that, dogs can show their fear by peeing or excessive shaking. When showing signs of anxiety, dogs also react by pulling their ears back, tucking their tails in between their legs, and curling up in a position that will make them look small.

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Photo: Unsplash/Joe Caione

When you see your dogs in this state of mind, what do you do to calm down?

First of all, do not laugh or punish your dog for reacting this way. This is the worst thing you can do for a dog. 

What you need to do is to stay calm and remove your dog from the area or the situation. 

If it is a situation that you cannot avoid like thunder, the best thing to do is be there for your dog and let your dog know that you are present. Don’t overreact and comfort your dog TOO much, either. We want to build bravery while reassuring a scared dog – not justify fear by being overly comforting.

Rubbing your dog’s nose in pee or poop

When a dog accidentally pees or poops inside a dog owner’s house and not on the designated spot, it is quite common for dog owners to rub their dogs’ nose on the poop or urine as punishment.

Wrong thing to do!

However, this punishment only instills more fear in your dog than teaching your dog to pee or poop on their designated spot. Doing this to your dog is only counterproductive and can ruin your relationship with your pet.

If you own a puppy who does this quite frequently, then the issue is potty training, and there are many methods you can look up online that will train your pup and still not hurt your pup’s feelings.

The Potty Training Nightmare

If you have a grown dog who does this in inappropriate places, there may be reasons why your dog is not peeing or pooping in the designated spot (like the grass outside or a porch potty).

Learn how I made my DIY porch potty (self draining!) and see the other 7 best DIY or cheap options.

One of the reasons could involve a health problem. If you are worried that your dog may have some related health problems –  stay calm and continuously observe your dog’s behavior. Do this over several days.

If you are sure that they do not have a health problem, they could just be excited to take a walk and not wait. Usually, dogs have these “accidents” because the dogs are unable to control these actions.

This typically means you need to walk your dog more often. Your dogs usually give you signals that they want to be taken out for a walk.

Another reason could be because something scared the dogs. Dogs have a tendency to urinate when the dogs are experiencing fear.

Dogs do not just pee in inappropriate places out of spite. As a dog owner, it is your job to observe your dogs’ behaviors once they do this. Through your observations, you can determine how you can approach your dogs’ potty problem. 

There are many alternatives other than rubbing your pup’s nose in the accident. This can instill fear on your dog and affect your relationship with your dogs.

Raising a happy dog

Taking care of dogs is not a joke. Basically, it is similar to having children. Dogs need tender, love, and care. Dogs are also social creatures, and they thrive in constant interaction. 

As a dog owner, it is your job to ensure that your dog is raised in a happy and safe environment.

Adopting a new puppy? See our list of 53 actually good Star Wars dog names OR learn how to play the muffin tin DIY brain game!