Every now and then my mother, a true non-pet person if ever there was one, says something along the lines of “Your cats sure are spoiled.” I smile and say “thank you.” I know she doesn’t mean that as a compliment, but to me it definitely is. If I am spoiling my cats, it means I am doing everything I can to make sure they are happy and healthy, and feel loved and appreciated.
Unlike spoiled children who run the risk of becoming brats who feel and act entitled, spoiled pets are just contented creatures who have a wonderful life. Are they thankful for it? I’m sure there are those like my mother who believe animals don’t have the capacity to feel thankful, or happy or sad either, for that matter. But we know better, don’t we?
Who among us can say that we haven’t seen looks of sheer joy on the faces of our pets? The greatest thing about making a pet happy is that it’s actually quite easy. They don’t ask for much other than to be well fed and well loved – now, how hard is that?
We already know that dogs are experts at reading our body language and have the ability to read our emotions by looking at our face. We also know that dogs respond to our tone of voice in much the same way we understand another person’s tone. A new study was recently released that gives us a deeper understanding into how the canine brain processes the emotional tones of our voice to understand how we feel.
Scientists have been trying for years to get into the head of canines to unlock what goes on in their mind. Several years ago Dr. Gregory Berns, a Neuroeconomics professor at Emory University, and his colleagues trained dogs to remain calm and lie quietly in an MRI scanner so they could scan the canine brain with the dog fully awake and unrestrained.
In a nutshell, Neuroeconomics is the study of how we make choices by evaluating risks and rewards, and when interacting with other people. When other researchers learned it was possible to train dogs to lie still inside an MRI scanner, it opened up more studies into how the canine brain works. The surprising finding is that dogs, like us, have a dedicated voice area in their brain that receives and interprets emotions in the voices of humans and dogs.
Two of my dogs, Keikei and Dozer, love to wrestle with each other outside. Both of them enjoy the back and forth, and trying to get them back inside after their morning duty run was frustrating, to say the least. One day I decided to try a new tactic, and when Keikei was at the foot of the stairs, I called her to come, showed her a CANIDAE Pure Heaven treat, and waited for her to bounce up the steps. When she got to the top, I gave her the treat, along with some praise and a mini massage. Treats will definitely get a dog’s attention, but according to a new study, how you greet your dog matters.
The bond we have with other people or our pet doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process of earning and building on a trust that grows over time. Our human tendency is to gravitate towards people with a positive attitude who are quick to give us a warm smile. It’s nonthreatening, comforting and indicates friendliness. A simple greeting makes you feel good. When touch is added, the emotional response has a lasting effect. Touch is an important aspect of the bonding process with dogs too. A casual touch from someone who cares is a positive sign of an emotional bond. Like us, dogs are social creatures and how we greet them plays a role in their emotional outlook. Dogs need to feel our touch as much as we need contact from people we care about.
My dogs don’t lose sleep worrying about what to get me for Valentine’s Day. They snooze through TV commercials for flowers and candy, and their idea of a night out on the town would involve me chasing them after they’ve escaped from their dog pen. Fact is, dogs have no concept of Valentine’s Day…but they are capable of showing love. It might not be the same way we express our fondness for one another, but dogs do indeed have feelings of love.
We know dogs share some of the same emotions we have. They can become jealous, angry or depressed. Dogs show joy and express their happiness with a wiggling body when they see their favorite person. Research has also shown that dogs are capable of showing empathy to us and other animals. Many people claim their dogs can also express love, and now there is research to back up their claims.
The debate over which emotions dogs can feel has been going on for years. However, as scientists continue digging into the canine mind, they are learning that the bond we share with our dogs is more than just providing them with security or their favorite CANIDAE food. It’s deeper and perhaps even more complex than we know.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta trained 12 dogs to remain calm and relaxed inside an MRI machine so clear images of the brain could be seen without having to sedate the canines. They focused on the area of the brain associated with positive emotions, and found that dogs and humans share the same brain structure that controls emotions. We share the same hormones, and have the same chemical changes that take place in the brain.
I feel sorry for people who perpetuate the myth that cats are aloof, unloving and incapable of (or disinterested in) bonding with their human(s). That’s far from the truth. I’ve had wonderful relationships with many different cats, and each has shown unequivocally that I am not merely tolerated because I dole out their CANIDAE food twice a day. Oh sure, they appreciate having good food and a warm place to sleep. We all do. But the depth of our relationship goes far beyond me being the provider of their creature comforts.
My cats cannot say “I Love You” in human words. They can’t express love by buying me presents or doing nice things for me. They may not be able to define what love is in the same way we do, but they can and do show love in their own unique ways. Here are 8 things cats do to express love.
They Want to Be Near You
When cats climb onto your lap, drape themselves over your shoulder or curl up next to you in bed, it’s not because they’re looking for body heat. They want to be with you because they love you, and they enjoy being in your company. Every night before I go to bed, I say goodnight to my cats. Annabelle is either in “her” box in the closet or one of the cat beds. Minutes later, she tucks herself in next to me, her head on my pillow and her paws over my arm.
They Comfort You
Felines make great “nurses” for two reasons. They seem to always know when you are hurting whether it’s a physical or emotional ailment. They also stay by your side to give you lots of healing purrs until you are feeling better. How can that not be a sign of love?
They Protect You
You only have to do a brief Google search to find dozens of stories of “hero cats” who saved their owners from injury or death by alerting them to carbon monoxide, fire, gas leaks and other dangerous situations. My angel-cat Binky even alerted me to the presence of a peeping Tom – she jumped on the dresser and growled until I looked out and saw the perv staring in my window!
I’ve rescued quite a few dogs and cats over the years, most of them wandering strays that were lost or abandoned. Some were healthy despite their life on the streets, and some were a little rough around the edges. A handful had been abused in one way or another. The one thing all of them had in common was their ability to leave the past behind and move on with their life. Humans may be the smarter species, but it’s the animal world that has an unbiased ability to forgive.
Most of us learn at an early age that life isn’t exactly fair. We experience setbacks, have missteps, broken promises or shattered relationships that can cause us to lose faith in other people. Things happen, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t control everything that occurs in life. When we feel vulnerable, our tendency is to focus on what made us feel bad, find someone else to blame or hold a grudge. Forgiving a wrong can be hard to do sometimes.
Our pets on the other hand, have the ability to forgive us if we make mistakes when dealing with them. Of course it’s not the same type of forgiveness we give to another person, but dogs and cats don’t hesitate to give us the benefit of the doubt when a human mistreats them or unfairly punishes them. Animals don’t translate the failings and mistreatment given by one human to mean all humans are abusive or unfair. We get a pass if we lose our temper and yell, as long as it’s not on a regular basis. No matter what kind of treatment a dog or cat experiences, they don’t hang on to the past, hold a grudge or complain. What happened in the past is not relevant for creatures that live in the present. However, gaining their trust may be harder to do if their trust was violated. Read More »
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