It’s a question that has pondered people and science for a long time, but a question any dog lover can answer… Can dogs feel emotions?
Dogs are capable of feeling many of the same basic emotions as humans (as is also the case for most other mammals). We see this more closely in dogs because of our intense connection. Dogs will also pick up on our emotions and either fall into them with us, or work their tails off to get us out of our funk!
Human emotions were categorized into 4 pairs of polar opposites by Professor Robert Plutchik:
Anger / fear
Joy / sadness
Surprise / anticipation
Trust / distrust
These same emotions can be easily attributed to dogs. We can see emotions through the way the dog acts in varied circumstances. For example, a dog that doesn’t feel comfortable, for whatever reason, is feeling a lack of trust. An untrusting dog will not meet the person or go into the environment he is uncomfortable with. Yet a dog who trusts, whether this is through confidence or experience, will be much easier to comply!
Breaking down these emotions in dogs:
Joy: A wagging tail a loose body and a dog that is willing to interact with people, play and have fun are all signs of a dog experiencing the emotion of JOY. A sad dog, like a sad person is cut-off, quiet and distant no matter the circumstance. Dogs can experience sadness from the loss of a person, friend / pet, change in routine and more.
Fear: Dogs that are fearful are often unsocialized which makes them unfamiliar with the things they fear. These dogs will be reluctant to approach things they are un-familiar or uncomfortable with. This can be something as simple as a person in uniform or a shopping cart.
I have found that fearful dogs are most often that way from a lack of experience rather than from abuse. This is why it is important to get puppies to experience as many positive things early on through your interaction with them and with other people and other dogs. Getting your dog into a well-managed day care with other safe dogs can go a long way.
Trust vs. distrust: Dogs who trust are generally more confident and easy going. Dogs who lack trust lack confidence and will often act similar to fearful dogs. They will be reluctant to experience new things and appear mopey. Trusting dogs are happy to try most anything new and approach life with zest. To build trust in a dog it’s important to socialize them early on and continue the socializing through activities like daily walks. The more life a dog experiences the more trusting they will be and the more they enjoy life. If you can’t get your dog out every day to experience the world, consider using an on-demand dog-walking app like wag! to get your dog to love life!
Surprise: Ever see a dog jump and spin when they see their human parent again after a long time apart? Or see their four-legged best friend? These dogs are surprised, and their body-language tells you so right away. They go from calm to hyper-happy in a blink of an eye.
People often think that identifying the emotions a dog feels is anthropomorphism, but it’s not. It is merely identifying your dog as a connection with you and the emotions you’re both capable of feeling. Keeping this in mind gives you the tools to give your dog the best life possible and in turn your dog will give you his or her all! Understanding that your dog can be happy or sad, anxious or surprised give you the ability to identify what makes your dog tick and that will only build on the bond you share with your best friend.