Can Dogs Feel Disapproval?

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Introduction

We've all been there - you walk in the door after a long day of work, only to find your favorite pair of shoes chewed beyond recognition by your furry friend. Not only are you angry and upset, but you are probably pretty disappointed in them. 

As you are scolding your pup and showing them how they ruined your beloved boots, you probably think they are ashamed of what they've done. Unfortunately, this may not be the case.  While an estimated 74 percent of dog owners think their dogs can feel guilt and shame, this may not be true. 

Researchers have spent endless hours trying to determine what emotions dogs can feel, and we still don't have a straightforward answer for you. We know they can feel basic emotions like love, excitement, suspicion, disgust, distress, contentment, and anger, but the more complicated feelings are up in the air. 

Disapproval, for one, is an emotion most agree dogs can experience. This means they can not only sense your disapproval, but they can also let you know when they are unhappy with something. 

Signs Your Dog Can Feel Disapproval

Every dog is different. which means that they likely display varying behaviors when they are unhappy or displeased with something. Over time, we have learned that dogs are much more complex beings than previously thought. Famed philosophers like Descartes and Malebranche thought dogs were simply trainable beings that could not think on their own, but we now know this is not the case. 

Dogs are able to experience a wide range of emotions, very similar to humans. While they may not have the capability to feel some of the deeper emotions we can, the fact of the matter is that they are more like us than we thought. 

Dogs respond to these emotions in different ways - from barking and howling to jumping up and down and wagging their tail. Because of this, it is important that you observe your dog and get to know their individual behaviors. They have the same hormone - oxytocin - that humans do that is involved with feeling. 

In order to truly understand how dogs feel and what disapproval is like to them, we must look at dogs like we do young children. It is thought that dogs have the same emotional capacity of a two to two-and-a-half year old human, which can help explain their actions and reactions!

Body Language

Here are some signs your dog can feel disapproval:
  • Cowering
  • Furrowed brow
  • Stretching
  • Averting eyes
  • Ears back

Other Signs

These are other signs your dog can feel disapproval:
  • Glaring
  • Tucking their tail and leaving the room
  • Refusing to come near you

History of Dogs Feeling Disapproval

As we have discussed, dogs are very complex beings that we continue to learn more about every single year. Thanks to modern science and extensive research, we know a lot more about their emotional capacity and what feelings like disapproval, love, affection, and anger look like to them. 

When we look back at dogs' wild ancestors, we do see a link in associative behavior and their emotions. This is important for our relationship with them today, as it says a lot about how they process certain situations, memories, and actions of ours. 

While Descartes and other philosophers may not have given dogs enough credit in the emotional department, dog owners of today perhaps go too far in the opposite direction. It is easy to think our dogs can understand more than they really do, and we certainly aren't here to say you don't know your dog! 

By taking the time to learn their behavioral traits and take note of how they respond to things they like and dislike, you will be setting both of you up for a very happy future together. 

Science Behind Dogs Feeling Disapproval

We have learned over time that dogs are highly sensitive to our emotions. Research initially suggested they may not necessarily understand exactly what humans are feeling, but rather, they rely on associative behaviors and facial expressions to understand our emotional state. 

However, more recent studies have suggested that dogs can indeed recognize emotions in humans and other dogs. They do this through a combination of sensory data and experience to form a mental picture about specific emotions and emotional states. 

Disapproval, for one, is an emotion that dogs understand pretty well. Not only can they tell when their humans are upset and discontent, but they can feel this way themselves. Think about when you try and give your dog a healthy snack or medication: some dogs verbalize their dislike and others find unique ways to avoid what's going on altogether! Most dogs are pretty transparent, so when they disapprove of something, their behavior will probably reflect that. 

Avoidance is another common way dogs display disapproval. The more time you spend with your dog, the more you will learn about their preferences and what they do to show you how much they don't like something. 

Training Your Dog to Feel Emotions

Okay, so you probably don't want to train your dog to feel disapproval, but there are techniques that will help you better understand their emotions and how you two can work together. Most scientists, researchers, and veterinarians alike will agree that dogs learn by association. Dogs have the ability to associate some positive meaning with a smiling, happy face, and a negative meaning with an angry face or tone. That being said, we don't know exactly what they are associating with these expressions. 

If you want to train your dog to respond a certain way to a specific emotion, your best bet is to use facial expressions, commands, and body language. Over time, your dog will learn that these specific actions together mean something, such as happiness, joy, or disappointment. 

How to React If Your Dog Feels Disapproval:

  • Try to understand what they don't like or disapprove of.
  • Be patient.
  • Remember that they learn by association and these things take time.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog Feeling Disapproval!