3 min read


Can Dogs Feel Disdain?



3 min read


Can Dogs Feel Disdain?


Have you ever disliked someone so much it went passed dislike and became flat-out disdain? You’re not alone! We’ve all felt this way a time or two toward someone or something. It’s not a terribly fun emotion, but it happens. 

So, you may wonder, does your dog feel disdain toward anyone? Maybe it's the mail carrier or the mean lady next door that complains about their barking...or are they just blissfully unaware? It seems like dogs do like and dislike people, so it doesn’t seem terribly far-fetched that the feeling could run deeper.

Research has actually shown that dogs probably don’t understand deeper emotions like disdain. However, they can understand others like happiness, sadness, and fear. So if your dog appears to show disdain, could it actually be another emotion that you are misinterpreting, such as fear or sadness?  Maybe!


Signs Your Dog Might not Like Someone

Let’s look at a few signs you might notice if your dog is afraid of something. Generally, a pooch that feels that they are being threatened by someone or something might start out by growling or barking at the person as a warning. If the person doesn’t back off, your dog might put their ears down and the fur on their back might even stand up. If they feel scared enough, they might even bite. So, watch out!

Some other things dogs do when they get scared might not seem quite as combative. A few other things you might notice include your dogs cowering, shaking, and trying to not make eye contact with the person. Your pup might even run the other direction when they see this person coming. No matter how your dog reacts, it’s important to be sensitive to them.

So, could some of these signs be misinterpreted? Perhaps you thought your dog just disliked someone a lot, but maybe, they are just really scared of that person.

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog feels threatened by someone:

  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Back Hair On Edge
  • Biting
  • Ears Back

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you might notice if your dog is scared:

  • Cowering
  • Shaking
  • Trying To Not Make Eye Contact
  • Running Away

History of Dogs and Disdain


According to Psychology Today, humans wondering about dogs’ range of emotions goes back pretty far - all the way back to the times of René Descartes. You see, many, many years ago, the churches had a lot of influence over what people believed scientifically. The churches originally said people had souls and feelings. 

However, they felt that animals did not have a “divine spark” and therefore couldn’t have feelings like humans do. Descartes went with this theory and said that animals were more like machines than humans. 

Today’s research varies from these ideas quite a bit. New research suggests animals in general, not just dogs, can have emotions. They just might not be as complex or developed as human emotions.

Science Behind Dogs and Disdain


Scientifically speaking, it appears that dogs have the same sort of brain structure that you have when it comes to emotions, which is pretty cool. However, it is important to note that humans don’t even have a full range of emotions until they hit developmental milestones. 

Dogs' capacity for learning new emotions is supposedly only around that of a two or two-and-a-half-year-old human, according to Psychology Today. They also say that dogs also tend to reach full emotional capacity within their first four to six months of life, depending on what breed of dog they are. 

So, that means dogs will be able to experience more basic emotions such as fear, love, and happiness. Several theories about dogs feeling complex emotions are usually tied to them feeling more basic emotions that humans interpret as more advanced emotions.

Training Your Dog to Not Dislike People


Looking to train your pup to not feel disdain for someone? It turns out, the key might be that your pup is simply scared of the person, not hateful toward them. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a complex process. If you try to comfort your pup when they are shaking or scared, they’ll associate your comforting and praise with the negative behavior, which is really detrimental. Praise and comfort are a reward. So, they will think what they are doing is good. 

Dog trainer Cesar Millan mentions that dogs can be helped through something called allelomimetic behavior. What this means is dogs learn behavior by imitation. Usually, this goes on only with animals of the same species, but dogs can do this with humans too. So, Cesar says to be calm but assertive with your dog when they seem scared. If their alpha (you) isn’t scared of something, they’ll learn to not be scared too.

So, can dogs really feel disdain? Research says no, it’s probably just another emotion humans are misinterpreting, such as fear.

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By Katie Anderson

Published: 05/31/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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