Dogs do have emotions as deep as grief. As loyal and loving as dogs are, there is plenty to show in their behavior that our dogs do indeed grieve the loss of a companion, whether human or other. Grieving can be about change too, such as a major move. No matter the reason for their grief, there are signs you can learn to recognize and methods you can use to help your grieving dog.
Recognize and Acknowledge
Since our dogs cannot speak to us in words, it’s important to learn to understand the language they do use – that of behavior and body language. As responsible pet owners and loving companions, over time we can learn how to recognize changes out of the norm. In the case of a lost companion, the source is obvious, but grief can be caused by other things as well. What signs does your dog show when they are depressed or grieving? Read More »
Dogs are very open with their feelings and moods, including the way they express joy. Their reactions are pure, honest and often immediate. A dog may show sheer happiness with their body or their actions, but there is no mistaking an expression of joy when a dog lets it out.
Although the language of tails is more complex than simply wagging for happiness, an extremely happy dog seems to be barely able to control the expression of joy with a wildly wagging tail. Not only does the dog’s tail wag, their whole back side and even their entire body can wiggle in joy. A dog with a long and strong tail can whip it wildly back and forth in excitement, so much so that you can actually hear it as it moves.
It’s been 10 years, but I still remember the look a friend gave me after I expressed dismay that her “poor cats” were never allowed to go outside. At the time, all of my cats, past and present, had the freedom to go out as much as they wanted. I actually thought it was a bit unkind that my friend was depriving her cats of the outdoors, and when I said her cats could never be happy living indoors, that’s when I got “the look.” She vehemently disagreed, and it was clear we’d never see eye to eye.
A lot has changed since then. For starters, I now know that I was dead wrong about indoor-only cats not being happy. Secondly, I’ve changed my practice of allowing my cats unlimited access to the outdoors. It’s a personal decision we all have to make for our own cats. I just came to the conclusion that for me, the risks of allowing them outdoors outweighed the benefits. It’s been proven that indoor cats live longer and healthier lives, and I wanted my feline friends to be with me for as long as possible. However, I worried about their emotional state because I still struggled with the idea that indoor cats could be happy.
What I have found, after years of research and personal experience, is that some indoor cats will be just as happy as they could by having access to the outdoors, and some will not. There is no one size fits all answer; it really depends on several factors.
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.
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