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.