5 min read


Why Do Dogs Show Positive Emotions



5 min read


Why Do Dogs Show Positive Emotions




Ruby is a happy dog that seems to show an array of positive emotions. Ever since you brought her home, she has expressed emotions that you feel are even human-like. You swear you are not going crazy, but this dog seems to understand you and your emotional needs somehow. When you need a pick me up, Ruby is always there, wagging that tail and showing you that cute face. She has been an asset of positivity to your life that you are forever grateful for. But you sometimes wonder how this dog is capable of showing such complex positive emotions. How has this animal developed such an understanding of you that she can make you find happiness even during dark times? You realize that Ruby is special in this regard and want to explore why she frequently shows these moments of contentedness.

The Root of the Behavior

Gregory Berns, a professor of neuroeconomics at the University of Georgia, has done numerous studies on the complex emotions of dogs. He found that dogs use the same part of the brain that regulates emotions as humans do. The caudate nucleus is the part of the brain that humans use when responding to positive emotions such as feelings associated with love and money. Berns trained dogs to stay still in MRI’s (not an easy feat), so he could study this part of the brain. Berns found that this part of the dog brain responds similarly to humans when the dogs were shown food and offered familiar human scents. He also found that when the dog owners left and then returned to the room, the caudate nucleus went haywire. Berns concluded that this study proves that dogs are capable of love and attachment that is even comparable to that of a human child. See, science proves that your Ruby is more than capable of showing positive emotions.

Science has come a long way since the days of Rene Descartes, a philosopher who argued that animals were machine-like, lacked emotion, and could not even feel pain. We now know that dogs have similar brain structures, hormones, and chemical changes as humans when they are emotional. Long story short: Ruby is more than capable of love. Dr. Miho Nagasawa, from the department of animal science at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan, published a study about dog’s positive emotions in the Journal of Behavioural Processes. He discovered that signs of positive emotions in dogs include a wagging tail and even facial expressions. Researchers used high-speed cameras to film dog’s faces after they came into contact with a stranger and then a familiar human. Dogs moved their left eyebrows up when meeting their owners and their left ear back when meeting a stranger. When presented with an object they did not like (such as nail clippers), they tended to move back their right ear. The study further concludes that dogs usually express positive emotions when they are with their owners, and dogs are not only capable of positive emotions but are also capable of intense loyalty to their human counterparts.

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Encouraging the Behavior

It is true that a dog’s brain has neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin that communicate chemical messages to the brain in a very similar way that they do with humans. This is why, like humans, dogs experience joy and happiness. This is essential information because it shows us the importance of positive behavioral training. Dogs that are trained in this way produce less stress and seem just to be happier all around. Dogs trained with negative reinforcements tend to produce more of the stress hormone, cortisone, which makes them anxious and fearful. This stress overwhelms a dog’s brain and causes the dog to become angry. In other words, train your dog with positive reinforcement to get a more positive dog. On the other hand, if you are constantly belittling and scolding your dog, she may not respond with the positive emotions that she is surely capable of showing.

Furthermore, dogs have been coexisting with humans for thousands of years, and dogs show a lot of positive emotions towards their owners if treated well. This is a behavior that should be encouraged, and a lot of it is dependent on how owners treat their dogs: feed, love, and pay attention to Ruby, and she will most likely react positively and be a loyal companion forever.

Other Solutions and Considerations

What’s great about the positive emotional behaviors expressed by dogs is that there are no concerns about it. You want your dog to express positive emotions, and you want to encourage the fact that Ruby expresses happiness. Without a doubt, these are wonderful qualities that should be praised. Although owners should not be concerned for a positive dog, there are many dogs, unlike Ruby, that are not so fortunate and have some difficulties expressing positive emotions due to abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events. But similarly to humans, dogs are resilient creatures, and most can be rehabilitated with patience, positive training, love, affection, and a quality home life. This is not without dedication. Rehabilitating an abused dog requires patience, routine training, identifying triggers and desensitizing these triggers. Dogs that have been kept on a chain for most of their lives, kept in a kennel long term, or weaned too early need extra TLC to let their positive emotions shine back through.

This is why dog owners need to create a safe environment that provides opportunities to build confidence, feed healthy diets, and speak soothingly to previously abused dogs as well as making an effort to spend some quiet time together. Although it is not a small task, it’s important that we humans do not forget about these abandoned dogs and realize that they are never fully broken, and we are capable of helping them find their positivity once again.


It now is more than clear that Ruby has skills that many other animals do not possess. She has a positive soul that resonates with humans, and she is capable of resilience and complex emotions comparable to those of humans. You know that you have provided Ruby with a high quality of life, and she expresses her gratefulness to you every day. You are also deeply appreciative or her loyalty and emotional behavior when it comes to you. She never hesitates to show her joy when you come home and when you provide her with the love and affection she deserves. Sometimes you wish you could talk to Ruby and let her know how her positive emotions have impacted your life. One thing is for sure, Ruby’s pawsitivity is contagious.

By a Retriever lover Amanda Clark

Published: 02/18/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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