By Linda Cole
Scientists have long been interested in doing studies about our canine friends. Recent studies have explored how the canine mind works and how important body language is to them. This new research has found that dogs, like humans, will often yawn when they see someone else yawning. Researchers also believe yawning is one way that dogs show us empathy.
Empathy is defined as the ability to identify with the feelings, attitudes or thoughts of someone else. Feeling another person’s pain is one of the requirements used to describe sentient beings. Many scientists have come to the conclusion that there are some non-human species, especially mammals and birds, that do have an awareness of self. Of course, people who have a strong bond with their pet have known this all along. Our understanding of canines continues to open our minds and hearts to the unique relationship we share with them.
The empathy of dogs may not be as refined as ours, but when you see the compassion of a mother dog nursing an orphaned squirrel or other wild animal alongside her pups, or a dog who refuses to leave his injured four-legged or two-legged, friend, their actions show a concern for others. Empathy isn’t something that can be taught. It’s what causes us to laugh when someone else laughs, or cry when we watch a love story on TV or see something bad happening to someone. Anyone who has ever rescued a dog or cat from a bad situation on the street did so because of empathy.
By Julia Williams
Parents of human children rarely admit to others that they have a favorite. In my opinion, it’s probably not because they don’t feel a deeper bond with one of their kids. Every human being is a unique individual. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, to feel different things for different people.
One might say there are as many “shades of love” as there are stars in the night sky. So it’s a perfectly natural, human thing to have a favorite child, but most parents won’t admit it because the backlash can be brutal. Recently, one dad blogger received the internet equivalent of being burned at the stake after he confessed to having a favorite child. Society says we’re not supposed to play favorites with our kids. And that goes for our pets, too.
The reality is that some kids and pets are closer to our hearts than others. We may not understand why, but we know it’s true. It is what it is. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t create feelings of guilt. We think we should be able to love them all exactly the same, and we feel bad because we don’t. We can’t change what we feel, though, no matter how much we might want to.
I admit that I feel guilty for having stronger feelings for one of my cats than the other two. I positively adore Mickey and Rocky and would be a hot mess if anything happened to either one of them, but my spirit would be shattered if I lost my sweet Annabelle. I don’t know how (or even if) I could ever get over that loss, because this little cat has touched my heart in a way that I didn’t even know was possible, until one day … there it was. Annabelle is my heart cat. There will never be a cat that I love as much or more than Annabelle. As sure as I know my own name, I know this to be true.
By Julia Williams
Have you ever seen your pet cry? And by “cry,” I mean actual tears from their eyes as an emotional response. Most people would say no; the general consensus is that animals lack the capacity for such a thing. We know that animals can “tear up” as a result of allergies, dust, upper respiratory infections, pollutants and such, but crying as an emotional response is believed impossible by most.
I don’t really like that word “impossible,” though. It would imply that we humans think we know everything there is to know about the emotional lives of animals. But how can we? Unless we are a dog, we can’t know what is in a dog’s mind or heart. We can form an opinion based on science and personal experience, but I think it would be arrogant for any human to say they know with certainty what emotions a dog or cat is capable of feeling.
Many scientists definitely have their own rigid thinking about the emotional capacity of animals. They base their opinion on carefully controlled research rather than the one-on-one bonding that takes place between people and their beloved pets. But here’s the thing: a recent study proved that people could tell what emotion a dog was experiencing by looking at photographs of the dog’s face. The photos were taken after introducing stimuli designed to elicit a specific reaction from the dog.
Happiness was correctly identified by 88% of the study participants; anger was correctly identified by 70%. So if we can tell by a dog’s face whether he is happy, angry, sad, surprised or afraid, is it farfetched to believe we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the emotional capacity of animals? I don’t think so.
Jeffrey Masson, author of the bestselling book When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, believes that animals do lead complex emotional lives. To support his theory, Masson found hundreds of anecdotes from the published works and field studies of noted behaviorists, including Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Cynthia Moss.
By Linda Cole
I had a cat that always seemed to know when I was feeling sad. Toby wasn’t a feline that usually climbed into my lap, and would come to me only when she wanted attention. Even though she wasn’t the cuddly type, if she thought I needed a friend, that’s when she would curl up on my lap and purr as if she was trying to make me feel better. A new study conducted at the University of London says dogs can feel empathy towards us, but I believe cats also know when we need a paw to hold.
From the study, scientists concluded that dogs are more apt to go up to someone who is crying and react to them in a submissive way. The researchers wanted to see if dogs would show empathy to either their owner or a stranger if the dogs thought they were upset. They tested 18 dogs in their homes, where the dogs were relaxed and comfortable.
A researcher sat with a dog’s owner and they took turns humming, talking, and pretending to cry. The idea was to see if the dogs would respond just to their “crying” owner or if they would also react to a stranger. The study found 15 of the 18 dogs approached the sad person regardless of whether they were the dog’s owner or not. Only six responded to humming.
Researchers concluded it’s possible the dogs were expressing an emotional behavior and not just approaching out of curiosity. When the dogs reacted to the crying, none of them paid any attention to the one that wasn’t crying. When it came to showing a submissive behavior, 13 of the 15 dogs that went to the sad person did so with their tail tucked between their legs and with their head bowed, which researchers saw as showing empathy.
By Langley Cornwell
There is no relationship that equals the attachment we have to our pets. I’m not saying the attachment is better or worse than the attachment we have with humans; I’m just saying we form a bond with the animals in our lives that cannot be duplicated with another human. I can wax on and on about the strength of the connection I feel with my pets, as I’m sure you can too. But have you ever really analyzed the emotional attachment you have with them?
According to a study compiled from the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, 33% of U.S. householders own at least one cat, and 39% own at least one dog. In truth, I thought the numbers would be higher. Even so, most everyone has lived with a pet at some point in their lives and during that time, they’ve certainly formed some type of attachment with the pet.
An article in Psychology Today looks at ‘attachment theory’ and applies that concept to humans and their pets. They say that pets are the perfect object of a human’s attachment because they are affectionate and easily accessible to anyone. As I understand it, there are several types of attachment styles: secure attachment, ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment. In human-to-human interaction, attachment theory postulates that people adopt a style of relating to the important people in their lives based on their relationship with their primary caregiver when they were a child. What’s interesting is this concept of attachment extends to our pets.
By Linda Cole
The general meaning for sentient is “to perceive or feel,” to be aware or have physical sensations. A sentient being is self aware, and some people believe this only applies to humans. We know pets are capable of feeling pain and can suffer, but just how aware are they of their surroundings and of the people they share their life with? There are those who say that pets can’t be sentient beings because they have no perception of death, but I’m not so sure that’s true. I’ve had enough experience with pets over the years to believe they know exactly what’s going on when their time has come. I do think pets are sentient beings and have an awareness we don’t fully understand.
I think my pets know me better than some of my friends. They are very much aware of my moods. They know if I’m angry or in a good mood, but more importantly, they know when I’m sad. And like a good friend who knows a hug can make a difference, pets give us their own special touch to let us know they understand and are there if we need them. This alone tells me they are sentient and are aware of what’s going on around them.
We domesticated pets centuries ago because we discovered that if we worked together, it benefited both of us. A dog or cat’s instinct and senses will surpass our gut feeling every time. When it comes to the natural world, dogs and cats know exactly what’s going on long before we do. My dogs know before I open the door to their pen if there’s a wild animal in the pen and exactly where it is. If a possum or coon was in the pen but left hours ago, the dogs still know that the animal had crossed through their territory. A pet’s instinct can help them find their way back home, know if a storm is coming and instinct tells them when they need to protect their family from an intruder.