Have you seen that smile on their face, that jealous look when you pet other dogs, or that fearful eyes when a fire truck passes by?
But is it for real? Can dogs really feel emotions? Let’s see what science has to say about it.
Limited emotional repertoire
Several studies have indicated that the emotional capacity of a dog is the same as a 3-year-old toddler. And unlike humans that continue developing their emotional range with age, dogs reach their full emotional potential at 6 months.
Research has indicated that dogs do feel emotions but there are some limits to the emotional spectrum they can experience. Complex emotions like pride and guilt, for example, are not part of a dog’s emotional repertoire. Most pet owners will disagree, of course. They will claim that they have witnessed how their canine has shown real remorse on multiple occasions when they did something wrong.
But is it a feeling of guilt that they observed? Most frequently, it is fear of punishment and not guilt.
Dogs have emotional healing powers
Pet therapy is a developing medical field. It uses dogs to help with the recovery of humans from conditions like heart disease and cancer. Dogs are also used as guides for visually impaired people as well as for soldiers with traumatic injuries. The therapeutic qualities of dogs were evident to Sigmund Freud. The well known psychiatrist discovered that his patients were more at ease in his office when a dog was present in the room.
Without a feeling of empathy on the part of the canine, those therapeutic roles would not be possible at all. Dogs keep people emotionally healthy by reacting to their emotional needs. Empathy is not something you can teach your dog.
Common Emotions in Dogs
Here are some of the feelings dogs can experience:
From an emotional aspect, dogs have huge hearts. They can sense if their owner is gloomy and will immediately react by trying to lift up his spirit. Love is a feeling they share freely. Skeptics will say their love is bought with food. There may be some truth in that, but science has shown that dogs do feel love and affection for their owners and not just when they give them treats.
Fear is a survival mechanism. Domesticated dogs have learned to tone down these responses but scary sounds like a fire truck passing by or the explosive sound of fireworks often provoke a response that signals the discomfort a dog is feeling.
Yes, dogs are envious. They are selfish when it comes to sharing the owner’s attention. They do not like competition. Most training efforts to remove jealousy are unproductive as it is a primary canine emotion.
Aggression is a familiar trait in dogs, a remanciese from their ancestral predatory past. Your dog is a territorial creature, ready to show off their teeth if challenged. They are descendants of wolves, after all.
When you observe them from a distance, you can clearly see dogs do enjoy life. Watching their facial expressions as well as their wagging tails, when doing everyday activities like going for a walk, fetching a ball or driving a car with the window open, prove their ability to feel joy and happiness.
Dogs sniff (and sometimes taste) everything around them. The logical conclusion is that they have a curious mind. Their sniffing is their way of exploring the world.
Dogs sense sadness and are very empathic to it. It is unclear to researchers if they are just mimicking their owner’s behavior or are they truly sad. But it is well known that dogs get depressed following the loss of their owner.
Hormones trigger emotions
Studies have shown that dogs have increased levels of oxytocin when petted by their owner. The hormone is present in humans as well and plays a major role in creating a bond between a parent and his child. It is only logical to assume that the hormone produces the same emotions in dogs too. Not surprisingly, dogs share another hormone with humans – cortisol.
Dogs do not like to be alone, so when they’re alone, their cortisol level spikes up. Cortisol has the opposite effect then oxytocin and is responsible for stress management. So while dogs and humans may not speak the same language, they do share emotional chemistry.
What can we learn from that?
Well, the good news is that you can feel free to dress your dog in that silly costume for Halloween as they will not feel any shame, regardless of how ridiculous they look. And the most important thing – you can rest assured your dog feels love for you. That’s really the crux of the matter, isn’t it?