Can Dogs Feel Awe?

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Introduction

We've seen that our doggos are curious by nature - constantly putting their snouts to work or getting into things they shouldn't be meddling with (remember that old pair of shoes you liked that Spot turned into a chew toy?). 

Dogs tend to have an endless amount of interest in the lives and world around them, constantly wanting to know more. So what about dogs makes them so curious and how do they go about leading their lives full of awe?

Signs Dogs Can Feel Awe

Research has shown that our pups don’t have exactly the same range of emotions that we humans do. In fact, their emotional intelligence is that of a human toddler. However, dogs are dynamic creatures who do in fact have real feelings. 

Even further, our canine companions are so in tune with their surroundings and the creatures they interact with that dogs can` sense how people are feeling too! While complex emotional states, like contempt, for instance, may be out of reach for man's best friend, feelings like love, sadness, wonderment, and awe are all basic experiences our dogs are fully capable of feeling.

Our pups do use their sight, but mainly rely on their sniffers and hearing to explore. If your pup is feeling curious and wondrous with its surroundings, you will likely see it written all over their face. Dog's tend to be filled with joy when they are out exploring, so prepare yourself for a sagging, drooling tongue, a wagging tail, or a snout hovering inches from the ground. You might even get to see those beloved puppy-dog eyes as your furry friend stumbles upon something new!

Body Language

There are some tell-tail signs you may notice when your dog is filled with awe:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing
  • Raise ears
  • Stalking

Other Signs

Here are a couple of other signs you may notice when your doggo is feeling awe or is wonder-struck:
  • Licking or tasting the object of curiosity
  • Pawing at the object of curiosity
  • Intent listening
  • The "zoomies"
  • Other excited behavior

The History Behind Dogs Feeling Awe

Our pups have always been curious creatures, relying on wonderment and curiosity for survival, back when dogs once roamed the Earth as wolves. Simply put, the ability to feel awe or curiosity was necessary to hunt food and maintain the survival of the pack. 

Back in the day, it was important that dogs be able to distinguish between potential threats and potential prey when they were in the wild. For example, wolves (and also our adorable puppers) react to sounds, movements, and smells. An urge to explore and gain further information was important in learning what was harmful or simply uninteresting. 

Therefore, a feeling of awe in addition to natural instinct was needed in these types of situations. Through the process of domestication, our pups have maintained the ability to feel awe. However, it is much more likely that simple curiosity, rather than the need to survive, will be the drive in a new intriguing situation.

The Science Behind Dogs Feeling Awe

Over the years, research has shown time and time again that dogs have the same brain structures that produce emotions that us humans have and similarly have the same hormones. Because of this, our pups undergo the same chemical changes during emotional states that we experience. 

Research has also determined that of the similar hormones dogs are able to experience, oxytocin is a prominent one. Just like in us, oxytocin is involved with feeling love. Thus, science has led researchers to hypothesize just how many emotions dogs have in common with humans. With similar neurology and brain chemistry, it seems only plausible that dogs also have emotions that are similar to ours. 

However, researchers and animal behaviorists have learned of some limitations to our doggie counterparts. Science shows that the brain of a dog is roughly similar in size and function to that of a human toddler around the age of two-and-a-half years old. Because of this, we can conclude that our dogs have the capability to feel and express emotions similar to those of a human toddler. 

This means that while our pups clearly have and exhibit emotions, they have a smaller range of emotions than adult humans have. However, scientists agree that dogs, for the most part, have the capacity to feel affection, love, suspicion, shyness, joy, anger, fear, disgust, contentment, distress, excitement, arousal, and awe. While a human’s emotional capacity develops over the years, a dog reaches "emotional maturity" at around six months.

Training Your Dog to Feel Awe

Unfortunately, we cannot train our dogs to be curious or awestruck about the world around them. Feeling awe and being curious is an innate ability - something that is ingrained in our DNA and the DNA of our dogs. However, if your dog tends to be over curious and struggles with boundaries or behavioral issues, there are few tricks you can try to maintain control.

  • Keep your pup from jumping on guests so they don't end up hurting someone
  • Teach your dog the "leave it" command to keep your dog from getting into something important or dangerous
  • Use proper leash techniques so your pup knows when to leave something alone or doesn't get into something dangerous

How to React to Your Dog Feeling Awe:

  • Keep a close eye on your pup for safety reasons.
  • Remember you are their leader of the pack, so maintain control.
  • Let your dog explore, but within reason.
  • Boundaries are a good way to exercise control and leadership.