Body Language With Benji


If you’re an 80s child like me, you’ll remember Benji, Zax and the Alien Prince. It was a kids sci-fi series about the earth-bound adventures of a dork, a droid, and a disgustingly cute dog called Benji. Benji went on to star in other series and films of his own. In all of them, he repeatedly showed that cutie-pie ‘I’m a little, stray puppy-wuppy, pretty please be my friend’ face till I fainted with saccharine over-exposure.

Later, as I became a smarty-pants teen, I learned to call this an anthropomorphism. This is “the attribution of uniquely human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings” like dogs. It is a fallacy of human reasoning, albeit a popular one. It explains, for instance, why it is now illegal to hunt foxes, but not rats. Whether such undue sentiment is the effect of anthropomorphic irrationality, or its cause, is open to dispute.

At any rate, we come to the crux. Can dogs really look ‘guilty’? the article asks. I’ll answer in a word. No.

“That “guilty look” on a dog’s face is all in the imagination of the human owner, suggests research. Dog owners have often claimed they can read the expressions of their pets – particularly that tell-tale look when they have done something wrong. But researchers at a New York college tricked owners into thinking innocent pets had misbehaved – with the owners still claiming to see this guilty look. The study found that the expression had no relation to the dogs’ behaviour. And researchers found that pet owners’ belief that they could read their dogs’ “body language” was often entirely unfounded.”

I’ve bloged before about my increasing anxiety with body language claims for humans. But this is taking the doggy-biscuit.

Look at these pictures here and here as deluded owners try to prove their point.

Sad. In both senses of the word. Always was. And now science has proved it.