Can Dogs Hold Grudges? What the Science Says

Dive into your dog's mind and learn how to determine when they're upset with you or other pets.

Published April 2, 2023
Sad dog ignoring owner

Dogs have a great memory and an excellent sense of smell. They can remember the scent of an old friend and even understand their owner's facial expressions. But do dogs hold grudges? Some people claim their dog is holding a grudge against them because they went on vacation, and when they returned, their dog was upset with them for several days. Others believe dogs can sense what is occurring in the moment, but lack the understanding of holding a grudge like a we can. It appears both may be partially true depending on how you define a grudge.

Do Dogs Hold Grudges Against People?

Dogs probably don't hold grudges the way people do, in the sense that they remember a person wronged them and seek to "get even." But dogs do have the mental capacity to associate people's past behavior with how those people might treat them in the future.

Scientists at Kyoto University in Japan conducted an experiment with more than 50 dogs and owners to test out whether dogs can hold grudges. In this study, dogs watched their owners as they opened a box. The owners then asked for help from strangers to open the box. The result was, dogs were less likely to accept treats from people who refused to help their owner.

Angry Pit Bull looking up

The results from this study can be interpreted in several ways. Although this study paves the way for additional research to be conducted regarding canine cognition, it doesn't definitively prove whether dogs can hold grudges.

However, dogs are highly social, and studies have shown that they rely on memory about past interactions with humans to display preferences when making choices about which person to pick in a choice test. If dogs are properly socialized, they can learn to predict human behavior, and can associate positive experiences with a particular person.

Grudges Against Other Dogs

There is limited research available about whether dogs hold grudges against other dogs, but research has indicated they can recall certain scents. If your dog has been in a scuffle with another dog, and that dog comes around again, they may recall that scent and become anxious or stressed. While this doesn't necessarily mean dogs are holding a grudge like we do, we know dogs have the long-term memory to remember how another dog's behavior affected them.

Do Dogs Have the Memory to Actually Hold Grudges?

According to Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of The Intelligence of Dogs, dogs have a very long memory and are capable of remembering specific events from months or years ago. Although dogs have emotions and the ability to recall negative events, scientists have not developed a way to test this theory with accuracy.

When people hold a grudge, they could be upset with someone for years and remember why they were upset. Dogs may recall how they felt and associate a person or another pet with a specific scent or reaction, but the likelihood that they remember the actual negative event, or specifically associate negative feelings about the event with a person or other pet, is low.

Fast Fact

Dogs recalling the people, places, and experiences they have had based on scent or behavior is known as associative memory.

Why Do Some People Think Dogs Hold Grudges?

Dogs are pack animals and their loyalty is to the pack. They learn quickly that humans are part of their pack, so they will defend their human family against other dogs and other humans if needed. Dogs often form tight bonds with their owners and will also defend them if necessary. If an individual appears to be threatening to their family, they may hold a "grudge" against that particular person any time they're around. This behavior is likely more about protecting their pack and themselves, rather than specifically resenting the threatening person.

French Bulldog on couch

Sometimes you may feel as though your dog has something against you. When you return from a weeklong trip away from home, for instance, your dog may act strangely. They may greet you with extreme enthusiasm at first, and then become withdrawn afterward.

However, this behavior is probably related to your dog's separation anxiety, your dog's sensitivity to new scents, or their reaction to your departure. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety may be agitated and possibly worn out from worrying while you're gone. Your dog acting awkwardly could simply be due to fatigue.

How to Tell if a Dog is Irritated

If you are familiar with your individual dog's normal reactions, you can better assess their mood and behavior. When a dog is irritated, they may show certain facial expressions and body language. Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Ears flat against head
  • Lips pulled back from teeth
  • Tail tucked between legs or wags stiffly with minimal movement
  • Hiding behind owner or another dog
  • Aggressive growling and/or barking

When upset, some dogs may also go the other direction. As opposed to showing signs of irritation, they may ignore you completely. They may not be as affectionate as normal and they might not be completely themselves.

Handling Your Dog's Behavior

The first thing you need to do is to understand why your dog is upset in the first place. If your dog was hurt by another person or a pet, they may be feeling fear and anxiety around them because of what happened in the past. This could make them nervous around other people and pets, which can lead to aggression or other behavioral problems down the road. Patience is crucial while determining why your dog is acting the way they are. They may take time to warm back up after they have experienced an issue. In most cases, they will return to normal once the issue has been resolved.

Can Dogs Hold Grudges? What the Science Says