Do Dogs Know if You Accidentally Hurt Them?
Do dogs know if you accidentally hurt them, or do they have a hard time grasping the idea of things being done "by accident?" Good question! The most honest answer is that we may never really know exactly what may be crossing a dog's mind, but we can make some assumptions based on how dogs react. Also, we need to consider several factors such as the severity of the accident, how likely your dog is to "bounce back" from a startling event, and what you do to "make up" things.
The Severity of the Accident
Let's face it: as much as we are careful around our canine companions, we are ultimately clumsy beings, and a time may come, when we trip over our canine companions or drop something on them. Maybe we don't see our dogs and almost accidentally sit on them or we step on or close the door on their tails.
How the dog reacts may vary based on the severity of the accident. If you "almost" sit on your small dog, your dog may just quickly squiggle out of the way, and if you almost trip on your dog, he might just give out a startled yelp and then quickly recover, but if you close the door on your dog's tail or really end up hurting him, it is natural and instinctive for him to react accordingly.
Any dog who feels pain will startle and act out of instinct no matter what. Some dogs may even react aggressively and bite.
The Dog's Temperament
On top of the severity of the accident, the way the dog reacts also varies based on temperament. Some dogs are more resilient than others and therefore more capable of bouncing back, others struggle more.
A dog's history in the family and individual life experiences play a role too. If dogs develop a strong bond with their owners to such an extent that they feel safe and have a secure base, they tend to grow more confident and are more likely to perceive a mishap, as something out of the norm, and quickly get reassured.
They might initially look at you with a quizzical look for a split second as if saying "what was that?" but they'll be quick to understand it was just an accident and you didn't really mean it.
Dogs who are fearful by nature, standoffish, and lacking a secure base, may be more likely to struggle. Some dogs have even been even known to take days or weeks to recover.
Small dogs in particular who are more fragile and more likely to be stepped on may have a hard time. At a careful glance, you may notice these dogs stay away from their owner's legs and are hyper vigilant about their owners' moves.
I personally, think your reaction plays a big role in helping your dog understand that you really didn't mean to startle him or hurt him.
It therefore must help in someway if you are quick to turn around and tell your dog "Aww, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to! Did you get hurt?" as you gently caress your dog. Your dog doesn't know what you are exactly verbally saying, but he can sense your reassuring tone. He may even give you a quick lick on the hand or face as if stating "apology accepted."
That's what vets often do after all when they give shots to puppies or dogs who yelp. It's a way to make them feel it wasn't really a big deal. "Awww, it didn't hurt that much, did it? It's now all over now....lovely puupppyyy! Now who's the good boy? Who's the good buoy?"