Can Dogs Feel Dejection?

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Introduction

Have you ever felt dejected? 

Perhaps at school, you were the kid who was always last to be chosen for the sport's team. Or maybe you didn't get the promotion at work that you assumed all but guaranteed. 

Dejection is an unpleasant emotion that is a cocktail of sadness, depression, down-heartedness, and lack of motivation. In fact, it could be argued that dejection is the overlooked middle child born of hope and disappointment.

In fact, dejection requires the presence of hope or belief, in order to have those dreams swept away from you - all of which are a pretty complex set-up for a dog. The truth is that dogs certainly do feel negative emotions such as depression and sadness, and they certainly do feel a sense of resignation to a bad lot in life that could also be described as dejection. 

Signs a Dog is Feeling Dejected

A dejected dog is one that's resigned to their circumstances. These dogs are sad and may even have a cowed, defeated air about them. Think of the dog used as a 'before' on an ASPCA advertisement and you have the emotion nailed, right there. 

A dejected dog is downtrodden, holds their head low, and has little to wag about. Indeed, they are likely to be suppressing fear and anxiety so that tail could well be clamped low between the back legs. 

A dog in this state of mind tries not to draw attention to themself and spends a lot of time sleeping. When spoken to, they may show the whites of the eye as they turn the head away to avoid a direct stare. Their ears are usually held low against the head. 

The gait of a dejected dog is miserable, a head-held-low slouch, with a complete absence of bounce. 

When approached, a dejected dog may either not respond, turn away, or even growl to reject attention. The reason why lies in why they feel dejected in the first instance. Often this is because their repeated attempts to elicit affection or attention have been rejected and so, they've given up hope. In the worst cases, the dog may even have been abused, leading to a fear or anxiety around people which makes them react with aggression. 

Body Language

The body language of a dejected dog is actually quite heart-breaking, once you realize what it is you are seeing and what it implies. Watch for:
  • Low tail carriage
  • Lack of focus
  • Dropped Ears
  • Sleepiness

Other Signs

Other, more subtle signs include:
  • A slouched body posture
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Lack of interest in play or games
  • Turning away when approach
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Head held low

A History of Canine Emotions

Dog psychology is a fascinating field, not least because it's only in the past 100 years that we've been seeing things for what they are.

In previous centuries, it was considered dangerous or heretical to believe that dogs had emotions similar to people. Dominant religions held that humans were unique in that they had a soul. To fit in with this, animals were relegated to the position of automatons or machines, that reacted to their situations rather than experienced it on an emotional level. 

To admit dogs felt higher emotions not linked to survival placed them dangerously close to humans, which opened up a debate about animals having souls. 

Fortunately, times change and in the 20th century, dog behavior could be studied with an open mind, rather than interpreted through the bias of religious views. We even now know that a dog's emotional development is equivalent to that of a 2-1/2-year-old child. 

The Science of Dog Emotions

It's official! Dogs experience a similar set of emotions as a 2-1/2-year-old child. However, the canine's emotional range halts at this point and doesn't progress. This is actually a great thing for pet owners, as those later developing emotions tend to be the divisive ones such as spite, pride, avarice, and jealousy. 

Dogs experience what are known as primary emotions. These are emotions that are geared towards survival. This may be fear or anxiety, which are useful ways of the dog staying away from potential harm. 

More positive emotions such as joy and happiness are in a dog's repertoire. Again, this helps them learn because if an experience is pleasurable, they will repeat it. 

Better still for the pet owner is that dogs do feel love. This is a great way of bonding them to a caregiver, which just happens to be the mother dog or their owner!

Training a Dog to Look Dejected

It would be all to easy to make a dog dejected for real, but this is an immoral thing to do. However, you can train a dog to LOOK dejected, as a trick, which is an altogether different thing. 

First, decide what it is that makes a dog look dejected. It might be an action such as lowering their head. Then, you lure the dog into lowering their head, reward them for the action, and label it with a cue word. 

To get the dog to lower their head, the simplest thing is luring them with a treat. Use a tasty treat held in your hand. Hold it close to the dog's nose and lower the treat so the dog follows through with their head. As the dog's head dips, praise the dog enthusiastically and give them the treat. 

Repeat this several times. As the dog starts to anticipate where you're going and offers a lowered head, say "Sad" as you lower the treat. Then, praise and reward. 

With enough repetitions, the dog will start to link "Sad" with lowering their head, and offer the action spontaneously. When this happens, get really excited and praise them. Also, say the word "Sad" ahead of anything, and if the dog dips the head, then bingo! You have "Sad" on cue. 

You can elaborate on this further, by making the dog wait, head lowered, before giving the reword. Simply delay giving the treat by a few seconds before rewarding them. Then, extend the time they have to wait to get the reward. 

How to React to a Dejected Dog:

  • Be kind and caring when dealing with this dog.
  • Be extra-patient during training.
  • Figure out what makes them anxious and attempt to remove it from them.