When I walk in our front door, my dogs are happy to see me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been gone for hours or days. I know they’re happy because they wiggle, dance and squirm. Their tales wag excitedly and they push each other out of the way, trying to get closer to me. They are happy to see me because they love me.
It seems obvious to me that dogs feel emotions similar to humans. In reality, however, the existence of emotions in animals has long been a point of scientific dispute. In fact, 17th-century scientists and philosophers such as René Descartes and Nicholas de Malebranche asserted that dogs were nothing more than living machines that can be programmed to do things. They believed that given the proper stimulus and motivation a dog could be easily programmed, but that they feel nothing and know nothing.
Modern science has evolved from that theory, and come to recognize that animals have a similar chemistry, hormones and even brain structure as those that create emotions in humans. Because a dog’s neurology and chemistry are similar to a human being, it’s sensible to assume that our emotional ranges are similar, but that’s not exactly the case. Yes, it’s true that dogs have emotions which are similar to ours, but not the same as a fully-developed adult human. Research indicates that dogs have the emotional ranges and mental abilities comparable to that of a two to two-and-a-half year old human.
We can usually tell what kind of mood a person is in by observing their body language, facial expression and tone of voice. It’s an ability only seen in humans and one other species – dogs. But do canines know when we are happy or angry just by looking at our face? According to a new study, the answer is yes; your dog knows if you are giving them a smile or a frown!
Researchers in Vienna, Austria put 11 dogs through a series of tests to see if canines can recognize a happy or angry face by looking at images. The dogs were never shown the entire face of the person, and could only see either the top half of the face or the lower half. They could only make their decision by viewing the person’s eyes or mouth.
To begin the study, each dog was trained to correctly pick out images of the same person with either a happy or angry face. The group of dogs included a Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Fox Terrier, Border Collies and mixed breed dogs. Half of the dogs received a reward for picking out a happy face, and the other half had to pick out the angry face to earn their reward. To make their picks, each dog had to tap the correct image on a computer screen with their nose. A correct tap sent a treat down a tube to the dog.
The other day I ran across a research article that I completely disagree with and I want to get your opinion. The topic was emotions, and it explored the differences between what scientists consider primary and secondary emotions in animals. Feelings like anger, disgust, fear, joy and surprise are often called primary emotions. These are emotions that are collectively experienced; they’re universal. Feelings like envy, guilt, jealousy and shame are considered secondary emotions and reserved for those with higher cognitive abilities.
Secondary emotions are believed to involve a more intricate reasoning process. In terms of jealously, for example, the subject has to display complex rational thinking in order to experience it; he has to recognize and understand what the other subject is receiving and measure it against what he is receiving.
According to this article, secondary emotions are experienced by some animals, namely primates, but these emotions are not experienced by dogs. The rationale for that conclusion is that some behavioral scientists don’t think dogs possess a developed level of cognition or self-awareness. Therefore, they conclude that dogs cannot experience secondary emotions.
What?! I beg to differ. As someone who has spent her entire adult life in a multiple dog household, I can tell you that dogs get jealous. Granted, some dogs display their secondary emotions more animatedly than others, but I honestly believe that dogs feel secondary emotions.
Because dogs are social animals, it’s not surprising how connected they are with the people they love. Most dogs are more than willing to protect us from any foe, and we rely on their extraordinary sense of smell and hearing in many ways. However, there are some amazing things dogs can sense about us. Just by paying attention, our dogs can figure out what’s on our mind.
Dogs Can Sense Sadness
Research on how dogs interpret our moods suggests that our canine friends may be capable of feeling empathy in their own unique way when it comes to knowing when you’re feeling sad. In a recent study, scientists found that dogs are more apt to approach someone crying in an effort to comfort them regardless of whether it was someone they knew or a stranger. Humming and talking didn’t garner the same behavior from the dogs in the study. They would try to console the crying person by licking their hands or face, and some took toys to the person to try and cheer them up.
Dogs Can Sense Anger
The “guilty look” on a dog’s face when he’s caught misbehaving isn’t what it seems. He’s just reacting to your angry words and body language. To help defuse a situation and calm you down, the guilty look is his way of saying “I don’t know why you’re upset, but I’m being submissive to help you feel better.” Dogs aren’t capable of feeling guilt, which is why it’s wrong to punish them for doing something they see as natural behavior.
Most dog owners view their pets as important and valued members of their family, and we’d never do something intentionally that would hurt our dog’s spirit. We may not always understand why dogs behave in certain ways, but dogs don’t understand some of the things we do either. How we interact with a dog matters, and sometimes our actions can unintentionally hurt his spirit.
Taking away food or toys to establish leadership
Food aggression and guarding toys can be a problem that may result in an aggressive reaction towards you, another person or pet. Addressing bad behavior by taking away his CANIDAE food or toys while your dog is still eating or playing won’t change his behavior, and can actually make it worse. He doesn’t have any idea why you “stole” his supper or toy. If it’s repeated on a regular basis, from your dog’s point of view he has a good reason why he needs to be on guard. It doesn’t establish you as the leader, and you risk losing your dog’s trust. To him you’re being disrespectful.
There’s no reason why he should object to you being near his food or toys if he sees you as his leader. You have to earn his respect through training, commitment, patience and positive reinforcement. Teaching your dog what you will and won’t allow gives him boundaries. You can unintentionally cause frustration and stress if you constantly remove his food or toys just to show him you can. If your dog shows unwanted behavior you don’t know how to correct, talk to your vet or a certified animal behaviorist. Resource guarding can be corrected without stressing out your pet.
If you’re a pet lover like me, you probably think that asking if pets make us happier is a pretty dumb question. You may have even uttered something sarcastic like “well duh.” I thought the same thing, until I happened upon a blog post where there was quite a debate going on about that very question.
“Debate? What’s to debate?” I naturally thought. My cats keep my Happy Meter so full, there’s simply no question their furry presence makes me not only happier, but healthier – body, mind and spirit.
The arguments against pets making us happier spoke of things like the hassle of caring for a pet (personally, I’ve never considered caring for my beloved cats a hassle, but whatever); the stress that can arise when they’re sick or injured; the agitation that occurs when your dog shreds your couch cushion or your cat deposits a hairball on the new carpet. I’ll give them points on the stress and agitation issues. No one likes those things. However, I still believe that all of the positives of having a pet far outweigh any negatives.
In my article, How Do You Keep Your Pet Happy?, my furiend Guido the Italian Kitty made an astute observation when he said “My Meowster self thinks your article should be titled How does your PET keep YOU Happy?” It was obvious that all of the things I do to keep my cats happy also make ME happy. I don’t do things that make my cats happy for the sole purpose of my own happiness, but it’s definitely a fringe benefit. I am reminded of that over-used saying: Happy wife, happy life. My version would be: Happy cats, happy me.
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, firm, corporation or brand names, in this blog is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. All opinions in this blog are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Natural Pet Food Company.