Does your dog have emotions?

I studied human emotions while in university(psychology major) but often wondered about dog emotions! Do they feel joy? Do they feel sadness? Do they feel excitement? Fear? Is it what you are interpreting their behaviour is,  with your human brain?

As for anxiety is it truly that they are feeling anxious or is it a learned response from the stimulus and/or your response to the behaviour?

What about sadness? Example: They just chewed up your shoes and you are upset. They sit with their heads down, looking at you with those sad eyes. I am so sorry, I will never do it again. “Awe ” you say, he truly is sorry. Wellllll…me thinks not, he has just learned that in the past you or someone got angry at him for chewing up a boot! He is in fact feeling fear, not sadness. But we know it makes us all feel better to think that they are sorry, so run with it:)

I do think that dogs feel anxiety in certain situations without a pre-curser stimuli or memory to base it on. Example: When my dog was a therapy dog, and they would experience that  a room their favorite patient was in is now vacant, the dog would become visibly antsy. But was the dog actually feeling anxious because the patient was not there and they wanted to find them or because they could smell that patient had died and it caused an emotional response they were not familiar with?

My one therapy dog would become a ferocious licking machine with only a few patients. Why? Was it that they liked them better? Did he feel joy upon seeing them? No again it was because this particular dog of mine could smell when someone had cancer. (he was a non licker/kisser for anyone else). It wasn’t an emotional response at all but a scientific one. (there is another topic again)

How many of us have seen people with small dogs in their arms wearing a dress? Someone reaches to pet them and they get snarled at. Oh sorry she is just feeling upset because she doesn’t want you touching her dress.  She is a very  anxious dog! Is it because she really is an anxious dog or is it just an emotional response to the situation? Most likely  just undersocialized  because she has never had people pet her, never allowed to be a dog with all four feet on the floor? So is it anxiety or another emotion then? How about fear that another human is reaching for me or my human?

So watch your dog’s responses to things in the next while and ask yourself if you are placing your human emotions on their responses/behaviours.

I think it is an interesting topic, one that is debated in the dog world as much as human psychology. I am just offering my two cents as I am entitled to my opinions as well but it doesn’t mean I am correct. Perhaps I am just trying to evoke an emotional response from you?

And as an endnote if you do volunteer with a therapy dog…we want them to enjoy it as much as we do right? Well here is the thing. They often do not enjoy volunteering! Perhaps they are getting older or in pain. You won’t see their response as a sad face, or sulking in the corner. Pulling you towards the door does not mean they have to pee(most of the time) or that they can’t wait to go see Fred down the hall who gives him treats. Remember we just discovered that often what we interpret as an emotion is oft a response to something else.

The signs to watch for are when someone pets them and they shake it off or turn their head away. This means they are not enjoying it and heading for the door means they want to go home. Constantly laying down, licking their lips can also be signs that they wish to retire!

Hope you enjoyed this post and hope it makes sense(am a bit tired) and I look forward to your thoughts and experiences with what your dog shows as emotions and how you interpret them.  Examples only please lets not get into Skinner/Freudian debates about who is right or wrong.

Kat and her dogs~







About dogsliketraining2013

Hi Folks: I have loved and trained dogs for 30+ years, training in various styles and am now a professional trainer. Many were rescues. I love to chat about things in the news, things to share with others about dogs! I love to read your dog posts too! Please keep it nice on my blog! Nasties will be removed!
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8 Responses to Does your dog have emotions?

  1. colliebrookcrossing says:

    Funny, while I was reading this the wind blew and the leaves made a lot of noise and Ranger ran over to me whining and tried to climb into my lap. It seems like the rustle of leaves and darkness scare him, especially if it’s both at the same time. Last night he was outside and the light on the garage went out and the wind blew and he started barking like something was seriously wrong…. because he was scared and couldn’t see.

    • Yes, that is so typical. My dogs will start a whole barking and chasing scenario in my yard when a leaf blows by! As for emotions…hmm perhaps fear of the unknown? My dogs love it when we rake and they can then go and jump in the pile. Not so sure I like it as they seem to get pretty dirty around here!

      • colliebrookcrossing says:

        My ex-husband wasn’t so nice to him, so loud noises that are chaotic make him really nervous. It’s taking time but he’s finally starting to realize that power tools and other things in garages aren’t going to hurt him. He also get really anxious when I have keys in my hand because most of his life when I left the house he got in trouble for just about anything, including trying to show affection. I have to hide my keys if I plan on going anywhere. He goes crazy if I don’t. I almost have to treat him as if he is a new rescue now that we’re away from my ex-husband.

  2. Not sure if either of our dogs have emotions, at least not the ones we project on to them, one of them certainly expresses fear during storms and she always appears anxious going through a gate or doorway if there is a chance that it will close on her. The other appears to express jealousy when our old dog gets more attention, but for the most part he is a social and seemingly happy dog. Both of them get very excited when it comes time to go to the beach, their wiggly butts and wide open mouths, tongue hanging out exuding happiness.

    • Hi:

      I concur with the storm fear(I think they often can smell it before it comes), my hound lived through the LA hurricane(he has many physical and emotional scars) and almost went through my window when I first got him. I found that I had to do something as I have never seen such fear. I bought a cd with loud storm noises and played while we were at home enjoying the day so the noise became a regular sound he heard while he was comfortable. I gave him a treat such as a stuffed kong(frozen lasts longer) and let him lay in his crate with it. When it storms now I play white noise of different things or put radio on for him and he relaxes in his crate. It has worked wonders as that was six years ago. I talk calmly and pet him so that he is reassured that he is ok which is often contrary to what some trainers will say don’t coddle them. Difference is I am not cuddling with him as if I was afraid as well:)

      I hear you about the jealous, my one dog is my husbands dog and she pretty much is attached to his pocket except when the other two come to see me, then suddenly she is in front pushing them out of the way.
      The doorway thing is puzzling. My one dog actually got her tail slammed in door by accident and I would try practicing with the dog as a game, sit on one side and me on the other and have dog stay and then come when I call, reward with a treat one out of every three times and the other two a pat on the head or a verbal good dog. It seemed to work!

  3. Funny that you mention this. I just wrote about whether dogs remember their travels and the places they have visited. Sometimes I wish the little guys could talk. Sometimes I am real happy that they don’t!

  4. My husband was ‘given’ a dog in France….it clung to him…but at drinks parties in the surrounding villages it would set off in search of…who knows.
    We always wondered where it had come from

    • Hi Helen:
      Isn’t that interesting. Perhaps where he had come from he was allowed at parties and often had a few select friends that he liked to go and visit with. Maybe he thought they would be at the parties you went to as well! We always wonder what goes on in their minds! But I think they are much smarter, more intuitive than most people give them credit for! Thanks for joining! I look forward to reading your posts as well! I am a bit slow on posting am afraid. Once I get my phone in sync perhaps I can be a bit quicker! Bye for now

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