Adult dogs and puppies often love to bite their owners.
This might be them wanting something to chew on, or it might be that they like to bite you during play fighting.
Sometimes they can get a bit carried away, and the biting can really hurt.
So, the question for this post is, do dogs understand if they hurt you?
Do Dogs Know When They Hurt You?
Dogs don’t know that they have hurt you right away.
However, your reaction to the bite can let them know that they caused you pain.
For example, if you react by quickly pulling away from them and yelping with pain, they will understand that the bite hurt you.
Let’s look at this in more detail and how you can use this knowledge to your advantage when training your dog.
Related Post: Do Dogs Know Their Gender?
Why Can’t Dogs Tell When They Hurt You?
Dogs can’t tell if they’ve hurt you because they don’t have the same self-awareness as humans.
This lack of awareness can result in your dog accidentally hurting you because, in their eyes, they’re just playing.
They can only know they were too rough if your reaction tells them so.
Although dogs are empathic animals, it’s not always apparent to them when they’re doing something wrong (especially when it’s in their nature to play fight and roughhouse).
A dog will often appear surprised and remorseful if you react negatively to a bite they didn’t think would hurt, which shows that they don’t mean to cause harm!
In fact, you can use this to your advantage when training your dog not to be too rough.
If your dog bites you and it hurts a little bit, you should react as if it really hurt.
Quickly pull away from them and yelp loudly in pain.
You will notice they respond to this. They will stop biting you and check to see if you are ok.
Note – You may also find this post an interesting read. It answers the question, why do dogs bite hands so much?
Dogs Respond to Your Reaction, Not Their Actions
Dogs are reactive animals, meaning they respond to the stimuli around them.
If your dog accidentally hurts you and you don’t react, they won’t know they hurt you and will likely do it again.
Dogs often get very excited when they play-fight with their humans, which can lead to them forgetting to be gentle.
To let your dog know they hurt you, you have to react to the bite.
Your pup will pick up on your change of body language and facial expressions, and it will be even more apparent that they hurt you if you say “ow!” in a high pitch.
So while they may not understand that they hurt you when it actually happens, they will understand your reaction, which is the next best thing.
NOTE – Check out this post if you are interested in the question – will my dog protect me if I am attacked?
Ways To Tell if a Dog Knows They Hurt You
As already mentioned, a dog won’t be able to know if they’ve caused harm unless you make it clear in the way you react.
By reacting in a way that expresses your pain, you can train them to be more gentle, but how can you know if they have understood?
Ways a Dog Will Show Remorse or Guilt
- They will tuck their tail between their legs.
- They may roll over and expose their belly to show submission.
- They will pin their ears back.
- They will struggle to maintain eye contact with you.
- They will walk in a strange and somewhat comical manner.
- They might hide or cower somewhere.
Most pet dogs are loving and caring.
If your pet pooch was raised in a loving environment with lots of positive reinforcement and adequate training, they are very unlikely to want to hurt you deliberately.
So if your dog becomes distressed after they have hurt you, be sure to give them love and comfort to reassure them.
As dog owners, we have to remember that dogs don’t understand the world as we do.
They can feel and appear guilty without really understanding it, and we need to consider this when training and disciplining them.
NOTE – Click here to read a post about the dog egg challenge.
Do Dogs Feel Bad When They Hurt You?
If dogs understand they hurt you, they can feel bad about it.
Most dogs have a degree of empathy and can experience emotions such as sadness and guilt, especially toward their owners.
If your dog understands that you’re upset with them for hurting you, they’ll probably start feeling sad.
Your cues (changes in body language, facial expressions, and tone) will show your pup that you’re hurt or upset, and they will feel upset that they have caused you pain.
Before we finish this post, you might enjoy this video.
It shares some great tips on how to train a dog not to bite you.
Just click the image and it will start to play:
Final Thoughts On if Dogs Know When They Hurt You
Dogs aren’t clever enough to know they have hurt you unless you react in a way that shows them they did.
If you react in pain after they bite you too hard, they will understand this, which can be used to train them to be more gentle with you.
A dog play-biting or chewing is perfectly fine, but you should deal with it immediately if your dog bites you aggressively.
Please seek advice from your vet or a professional dog train before you or someone else gets hurt.
If you are in financial difficulty and are worried about vet bills, this website has some helpful resources for charities to help you pay your bills.
(If you don’t live in the US, you can use Google to find similar help in your country).
Ok, that is the end of this post looking at the question: do dogs know when they hurt you?
Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!