Do Dogs Know if You Hit Them by Accident?

We’ve all been there, trying to get something into the house and accidentally knocking your dog. But when we apologize, do they understand?

Dogs are brilliant creatures, especially when it comes to emotional intelligence. While they may not understand the concept of an accident fully, they can tell by subtle signs that their human gives off (like body language and tone), whether they have been hurt intentionally or by accident.

Picture this, you’ve just been out shopping and have returned home. You’re juggling armfuls of bags when suddenly you feel them collide against something and hear a whimper. Immediately your stomach drops and you wonder how you are ever going to communicate that you didn’t intend to cause harm.

We have all been in this situation, feeling guilty after accidentally striking our devoted dogs. However, do they understand the difference between pain being caused to them on purpose, or pain caused by a mistake?

All dogs, big or small, have an inane ability to put themselves in harm’s way at the most inconvenient of times. And though you may want to shower your poor pup with attention to make up for it… that may not be the healthiest option.

I accidentally caused my dog pain, now what?

Just like any human reacts differently, so do our canine companions. Depending on the dog; some may react with little to no attention given to what has just transpired – almost as if they didn’t even feel the knee that just sharply collided with their cranium. Alternatively, you may have a slightly more timid dog who instantly runs and hides away.

 What’s most important, is making sure there are no serious injuries. For example, an accidental step to the paw could result in broken bones, no matter how slight. So before anything, you should always check over your pet for injury.

 If you do find your dog is hiding away from you, it may be best to find someone else to check them over, if you can. If not, then that may be the time for a little treat just to coax them out. 

Do not fret! Dogs are known to be extremely emotionally intelligent and rarely if ever, hold any sort of grudges. It would take a lot more than an accidental love-tap to destroy your loving bond with Fido! Because from the moment you realized your mistake, you have been given subtle apologetic signs that our very intuitive canine pals can pick up on easily.

Should I lavish them with affection and/or treats?

While your first instinct may be to immediately rush to your dog and give them a lot of love and praise; it is suggested that this may not always be the best course of action. The reason for this is because of the way dogs learn through positive reinforcement. 

When we train our dogs, we work on a reward system when they do something that we want them to repeat. For example, when training a puppy to learn basic commands – such as sit or lie down – we may reward them with a nice slice of sausage, or even a lot of fuss and a few ‘good boys’s thrown in for good measure. 

This is known broadly in psychology as positive reinforcement, so when we apply the same rewards to a situation that we don’t want a repetitive reaction to, rewarding your dog can prove detrimental. Instead, you may be teaching him that hiding away from you whenever he is hurt, is the behavior you expect or want from them. After all, the last time it happened, they were rewarded for it.

So it is important we mustn’t let them think we are rewarding them when we accidentally hurt them.

What can I do instead?

As much as it goes against our human sensibilities, the best thing to do is not to react too much. Of course, as mentioned, you should check your dog over for any serious injury. But aside from that, you should not bring any extra attention to the incident. 

Your body language would have already conveyed to your confused canine that you didn’t intend to hurt them, far better than you may realize. A simple apology while you check them over would have sufficed. This is because of the high emotional intelligence dogs have. They don’t need to be lavished with apologies and guilt-ridden treats to understand it was an accident.

They know you and they – quite literally – trust you with their entire lives. They are able to differentiate between the intent to harm and hitting them by accident.

Will my dog hate me?

The short answer is: no. Unless you plan on making a habit of swinging around your limbs and shopping bags; meaning hitting your dog by accident becomes a recurring theme. There is no reason to believe that your dog will ever hold you in any less regard than they currently do. 

Dogs truly are the most loyal of animals. It’s why they proudly support the moniker of ‘Man’s Best Friend’, after all. So it really will take more than a few accidental hits – especially as most of the time these incidents do not result in sustained injury – to break the bond between you and your dog. 

When it comes to it, would you give up on a friendship just because your friend bumped into you by mistake? Of course, you wouldn’t. 


The last thing we want as dog owners, is to find out that we have caused our beloved pet any kind of harm – as accidents can happen. Especially when our furry friends would run to the ends of the earth for us, it is hard not to want to give them the world in return.

And while in most circumstances, that is perfectly acceptable behavior. When it comes to our dogs, we must take care that our affections are not misunderstood. The last thing we want to do is teach our confused pup that then getting hurt by accident was a good thing. 

So don’t go out of your way to bring attention to the incident, odds are, your furry best friend wont, and just do as you would with anyone. Acknowledge the mistake and apologize; your dog will understand through your body language, tone, and gestures how apologetic you are, and check them over, but ultimately – move on. 

You’ll both feel better if you do!