Top 3 Ways Dogs Know You Hurt Them By Accident + Tips


If you have a dog, there’s a good chance you’ve accidentally stepped on a paw or a tail. You’re walking through the house, not paying attention, and your poor furry friend has their body stretched out in your path. 

You apologise and do your best to show them it was an accident, but are they capable of telling between unintentional and intentional?

Dog’s may not be able to comprehend what an accident is the same way people do, but they have a good idea if you meant to hurt them. Dog’s are quite good at reading body language, facial expressions & tone of voice to determine if they’re in trouble or not.

Now what though? Do they still love and trust you, or will they be afraid of you from now on? 

Can they forgive you, do they hold grudges, and most of all, how can you tell your dog it was an accident? In this post you’ll discover how dog’s understand certain situations, how they can tell if what you did was an accident or not and how to avoid accidentally hurting them in the future.

Let’s jump right in!

Top 3 Ways Dogs Know You Hurt Them By Accident

  1. Your body language. If you intentionally meant to hurt your dog, your body language would be more forceful and direct as if you were trying to threaten the dog into submission. Dogs are very adept at reading and understanding body language and will be able to tell if you are trying to be threatening or not.
  2. Your tone of voice. If you were intentionally trying to hurt your dog, you would probably also be yelling at them loudly or speaking to them in a stern tone. Dogs can definitely distinguish between different tones in your voice and would hear aggression or anger in your voice if you were intentionally trying to hurt them.
  3. Your facial expressions. Dogs have been studied and found to have the intelligence level of two-year-old human toddlers, with some breeds being slightly more intelligent. As such, this means they’re smart enough to be able to differentiate between your various facial expressions including happiness, sadness, anger or indifference.

How Fast Do Dogs Forgive You After Accidentally Hurting Them?

If you stepped on your dog’s paw or tail accidentally, chances are good they won’t have any long lasting hatred towards you. It’s when the painful treatment becomes repetitive that dogs start to shy away from the human causing that pain.

Repeated abusive actions can quickly lead to a loss of trust between you and your canine friend, so if you often find yourself stepping on your dog or accidentally harming him in some other way, it may be slowly deteriorating the bond you share.

However, dogs don’t have the mental capacity to hold grudges like humans do. They will realize something hurt, and will understand you were the cause of that pain, but they will not hold a grudge against you for the rest of the day. 

In fact, after a quick snuggle and some soothing words, your dog will most likely be back to their usual self in no time.

Do Dogs Know The Difference Between An Accident And On Purpose?

Unfortunately we can’t have conversations with our dogs and be able to explain that the pain they feel in their paw or tail was a complete accident. So, you may wonder if a dog will know the difference between an accident and an intentional action that harms them.

In short, yes. 

There are various ways your dog will be able to determine whether or not you intentionally hurt them. Your tone of voice, facial expressions and body language are all vital clues your dog will use to determine how they should respond to what just happened.

Remaining calm is the best way to tell your dog that it was an accident. If you make a big scene over stepping on their tail, or yell at them loudly for being in your way, they may associate the pain to your overreaction and feel that it was intentional. 

On the other hand, if you accidentally step on their tail and comment in a higher pitched, sincere tone of voice that you’re sorry… Your dog will sense there was no intentional ill-will behind their pain. 

Does My Dog Still Love Me After I Hurt Them Accidently?

Dogs have a range of emotions, but forgiveness is still up for debate among canine cognitive researchers. You might feel the need to apologize profusely to your dog after accidentally hurting them, and in many cases your dog will likely start licking your hand or face in seemingly a way to accept that apology.

While the jury is still out on whether this is genuine forgiveness or just humans anthropomorphizing dogs (‘human’izing them) and projecting our own emotions onto them, the fact is that a dog will very likely still love you even after you hurt them accidentally. 

Use your voice and body language to tell your dog it was not intentional and follow it up with some snuggles or treats to reinforce your bond.

How Do I Show My Dog I Didn’t Hurt Them On Purpose?

You’re likely already showing them that what you did wasn’t intentional!

If after you hurt them by accident you apologise in a loving, soothing tone of voice, with a sad face that doesn’t show anger but shows sorrow, and giving them a hug or kisses, they have a good idea it was accidental.

As long as your pup wasn’t seriously harmed, you might be more upset about the situation than they are. No dog lover intentionally wants to hurt their furry friend, so one of the most important things to remember is to forgive yourself. 

Don’t dwell on the situation. Accidents happen and you feeling upset about it can lead to your dog feeling upset as well.

Top 4 Ways To Avoid Hurting Your Dog By Accident

  1. Get them a collar that makes noise. This is especially helpful for smaller dogs that love being your little shadow. Stepping on a small dog can cause serious injuries, so consider giving them a collar with a jingle bell so you always know where they are when you’re moving through the house.
  2. Give them a designated sleeping spot. If you are constantly stepping on a paw or tail that always seems to be in high traffic areas around your home, try giving your dog a new place to sleep. Designate a spot away from walking areas where you can put a comfortable bed or blanket for your dog to enjoy away from walking human feet.
  3. Be more gentle with your playing. Sometimes when we play with our dogs we can get a little overzealous with the roughhousing. Try toning down the exuberance in the play session so no one gets accidentally pinched or poked or otherwise unintentionally hurt by something.
  4. Understand you’re much stronger than they are. Always be careful when picking up or playing with young or small dogs as they can be quite sensitive. Also keep in mind that yanking on a leash might seem like a good way to give a quick correction on a walk, but can also cause your dog pain on their neck.

Final Thoughts

No dog lover intentionally hurts their dog, but sometimes accidents do happen. 

Dogs are experts when it comes to reading body language and differentiating between different tones of voice. If you accidentally hurt your dog, let them know it was not intentional by using a soothing voice and not making a big scene over it.

Your dog may be a bit shy while they process what just happened, but they’re smart enough to realize shortly that it wasn’t meant with any ill-will. Once your dog returns to your side, reinforce your bond with some play or a treat to let them know you still love them and don’t mean any harm.

Other posts you might find interesting:

8 Ways To Tell If Your Dog Knows They’ve Hurt You

29 Ways To Tell If Your Dog Respects You (#14 Is Odd)

Can a Dog Love You Too Much? (5 Signs They Do!)

Citations:

Your Dog May Know If You’ve Done Something On Purpose, Or Just Screwed Up

Dogs distinguish human intentional and unintentional action

Alec Littlejohn

Founder and Reviewer at Pawscessories. He is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! He grew up in a family of vets and to this day he helps out around the family clinic and shares his learnings on Pawscessories. Learn more about Alec's story here

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