Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Bertram Ploog

Committee Members

Daniel Fienup

Alexandra Logue

Bruce Brown

Joe Layng

Subject Categories

Animal Studies | Applied Behavior Analysis | Cognitive Psychology | Comparative Psychology | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Psychology | Quantitative Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Theory and Philosophy


dog behavior, guilt, appeasement, Pavlovian conditioning, simultaneous conditioning, sequential conditioning, serial conditioning, higher-order conditioning, hierarchical conditioning, occasion setting, theory of mind


For centuries, certain dog behaviors, known as appeasement behaviors (ABs)—such as averting the eyes, lowering the head and tail, or putting the ears back against the head—have been regarded as anecdotal evidence that dogs feel guilty for having committed wrongdoing about which the owner will be displeased. Furthermore, these ABs have been considered a demonstration of theory of mind in dogs because they seem to indicate a functional relationship between the dog’s behavior and its understanding of how its own behavior affects another. In the present study, domestic dogs were used to investigate potential determinants of ABs by testing whether Pavlovian conditioning would be sufficient to produce ABs. Four experiments (two pilot experiments and two experiments), were divided into three phases: In Phase 1, the dogs were in a room with one of two neutral objects; in Phase 2, sounds that predicted the owners’ entrance (key noise, doorknob jiggling) occurred for 10 s; in Phase 3, the owners entered the room and demonstrated either “happy” (H) behavior in the presence of one object or “unhappy” (U) behavior in the presence of the other object. The owners’ behavior served as first-order conditioned stimuli to establish the neutral objects as conditioned stimuli through higher-order conditioning. Specifically, each object became an element of a compound stimulus associated with H or U owner behavior within a context. During the 10 s of Phase 2 when the owners were not visible to the dogs, ABs came under the control of the object associated with U owner behavior and sounds that predicted the owners’ entrance. The results showed that in U sessions compared with H sessions, (a) dogs exhibited longer and more frequent ABs before the owners entered, and (b) dogs spent a significantly longer time away from the door and/or object, in a hidden location, with their eyes averted, and without a wide and/or loose tail wag. Because the dogs had not misbehaved before the owners entered, it can be concluded that (a) companion dogs can demonstrate ABs in response to stimuli other than the visual behavior of owners and (b) dogs’ ABs are not synonymous with a demonstration of guilt for their own behavior or an indication of remorse for disobeying the owner.

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