We feel immense love when we look at our sweet dogs. They are our best friends, our workout buddies, and our cuddle-on-the-couch buddies. There is nothing better than the unconditional love that a dog provides.
If we love our dogs so much, do they love us, too? Can dogs feel love for another animal or for humans? Tail wagging, cuddles, and kisses all tell us something about our dog's current mental state. Whining and howling tells something entirely different. Does that mean dogs are experiencing an emotion? Can dogs feel?
Signs That a Dog is Feeling
Dogs can feel a range of emotions. They can experience basic emotions such as sadness, fear, shame, and happiness. Dogs develop to the level of intelligence of a two-year-old. This means that they can't feel complex emotions such as regret about the past.
Some of the most joyful creatures out there are dogs. You can tell when a dog is feeling joy when they are playing, wagging their tail, panting, or jumping. It's pretty easy to tell when a dog is happy, it's just something we can feel and it is a great bonding moment.
When a dog is feeling especially content and comfortable, their body will show it. With relaxed ears and a relaxed posture, your dog will sprawl and be unconcerned with any distractions. You will also notice that your dog does not have a furrowed brow when they are relaxed.
Shame is a form of guilt, which is something dogs feel when they know they have done something bad. If your dog just got up on the counter and ate that precious pizza, you're sure to be at least a little bit peeved. You'll know your dog is feeling shame if they have a hunched posture, lowered ears, and those sweet, guilty, puppy-dog eyes.
Though dogs can feel a bit of shame, they do not get embarrassed when you dress them up in a silly costume, so, have no fear at your next animal costume party!
The History of Dogs Feelings
Believe it or not, man and dog have not been best friends forever. In fact, when the friendship began, it was actually wolves and humans who made a connection. Wolves were the first animals to be domesticated. It was over 15,000 years ago when both species realized they needed each other.
Wolves helped humans hunt, and humans provided food and shelter for the wolves. Over time, wolves grew closer and closer to humans until they were officially part of the pack. The wolves who remained close to the group evolved over time. The wolves who were better able to predict events and connect with humans were more likely to be bred.
Depending on various needs, dogs were bred to perform different tasks. Some were helpful hunters while others were great protectors. Some dogs are natural cuddlers and some are more independent.
Instead of belonging to the whole community, dogs began to belong to just one family at a time. As a result, dogs come in many different shapes, sizes, and personality types. Dogs developed their sensitivity and intuitiveness the more they interacted with humans.
After thousands of years of bonding and evolution, dogs are now able to engage with their humans on a truly emotional and loving level.
The Science of Dogs Feeling
While dogs do feel emotions, they don't feel them to the same extent that humans do. However, they do have similar brain chemicals that ignite different emotions in different situations.
Just as in humans, dogs develop their emotions over time. While it takes many years for humans to be fully emotionally developed, dogs undergo their emotional development within the first 3 - 6 months of their lives, depending on their breed. Dogs develop to the same level as a two-year-old.
When dogs are first born, they basically have two emotions that are both forms of excitement. One is negative and one is positive. Within the first couple of weeks of their lives, they begin showing signs of other emotions such as joy and fear. It doesn't take long for their full range of emotions to develop, but they won't ever feel the complexity of emotions that humans feel.
Once a dog is around three months old, they begin to feel that true and unconditional love that cannot be replaced by anything else in the world.
Training a Dog to Develop Emotionally
There are periods of socialization during a dog's emotional development. This means that during these phases, dogs need to experience certain things in order to further their development.
For example, when a dog is in the first few weeks of life, they learn what their social companions look like, such as humans and other dogs. This is when the dog's visual cortex is becoming more developed. They have a filter system that activates neural connections when they see humans or other dogs. If a dog is deprived of this developmental social phase, it will be more difficult to bond and connect with other people or animals. As a result, the dog may not fully emotionally develop, which is why this sensitive phase is so important.
By controlling a dog's environment in early life, a better emotional outcome is possible. By introducing a dog to many different people and different dogs, they are able to come to their full potential of emotional development. This is one simple way to train your dog in order to set them up for better emotional understanding in the future.
Another way to help dogs become more emotionally intuitive is by showing your dog how you feel. Dogs imitate our emotions. If we are consistently depressed, over time you may notice that your dog's energy level goes down and they become more lethargic. When we show our dogs that we are happy, that happiness will spread to the dog.
By reinforcing positive responses to social situations, you are helping your dog to develop into a more emotionally aware being. When you are in a social situation and your dog responds in the way you want them to, give treats or positive praise to show that this behavior should be continued in other similar situations.
Training a dog to develop emotions comes with time and new experiences. By regularly teaching your dog new things and taking them on new adventures, you are assisting in their emotional development.
Written by a Corgi lover Simone DeAngelis
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 03/16/2018, edited: 04/06/2020