We all love our dogs. Really, they're perfect, fluffy little balls of joy that make every day of our lives better. But many owners have wondered if our dogs love us in return.
As much as we wish they were, dogs aren't people. They can't talk back to us, and they can't tell us how or what they're feeling. But we've all wondered, do our dogs really feel?
It may seem like they do - they get excited when we come home, seem sad when we leave or yell at them, and get scared during thunderstorms. You may be surprised to learn (or not, depending on how expressive your pup is!) that your dog actually is able to experience emotion! According to psychological studies, our puppers have the emotional and mental capabilities of a two-and-a-half year old toddler! So not only is your doggo a fully bundle of love, but they also feel and think just like kids do!
Signs Your Dog Feels Emotion
According to research, our pups are able to feel about as much as a toddler. This means that they can feel a number of different emotions. The first they actually learn is excitement! Very shortly after they’re born, they’re able to feel excited about you coming home, going outside, meeting new people and pups, and all other things that make them happy!
Signs of excitement can include a rapidly wagging tail and wiggly little booty, ears forward with pupils dilated to be able to see and experience more, and an open mouth with their tongue hangin’ out!
Shortly after learning how to feel excitement, dogs also learn things like distress, disgust, and fear. While there are little intricacies regarding each different emotion, what you’ll notice for all of them are lowered ears that are pressed flatly to the head, dilated pupils, and their tails tucked between their legs. They may even be shaking or quivering. A dog that’s really, really afraid will try to run and hide, finding a place that they feel safe and comfortable. They also may roll on their tummies, which is a signal that they’re trying to be as submissive and small as possible.
Similar to expressing excitement, dogs also learn how to express love, contentment, and joy. Like excitement, dogs feeling love and joy have wiggly tails and booties, with ears forward at attention. They may even jump up and give you their slobbery version of kissies! When they’re relaxed or content, that’s the best time to allow strangers or other pups to meet your doggo. Their ears will usually be up, but not forward, with a relaxed tail (it may not be wagging, but that’s okay!). You should be able to tell when your dog is relaxed, primarily because they’ll just look like it! Their stance will be calm and carefree, with their tongue hangin’ out.
Because our dogs (unfortunately) can’t chat with us, it’s important that we learn their body language in order to understand what emotions they’re feeling. Most importantly, happy pups will have a waggin’ tail, and may even cover you in kisses. An afraid, angry, or nervous dog will usually have their tail between their legs, with their ears pressed close to their head. So just make sure to keep an eye out to keep your furry BFF happy, healthy, and feeling the best they possibly can!
The Science Behind Dogs Feeling Emotion
Like the rest of us, scientists have wondered what dogs feel and how they feel about us. Luckily, they’ve done tons of studies to let us know how they feel, and how they express those feelings! According to these studies, you have to imagine your pup as a little toddler. They feel and think similarly, and may even act like them sometimes. Basically, your fur-baby is actually like a child!
How they express these emotions depends not only on what they’re feeling, but also on the breed, age, and temperament/life-story of your pupper. Make sure you keep an eye out regarding all your doggo’s emotions and react accordingly! That way your woofer stays happy, healthy, and as loving as they can be!
Training Your Dog To Feel Emotion
Luckily there’s nothing you have to do to make your pupper feel emotions! As they grow, they’ll learn to experience and feel new emotions, which grow more complex as their personalities do!
Some dogs, like rescue pups or ones that have been abused, may have a hard time expressing their emotions or may seem like they don’t have much. It’s important, if your dog seems to be afraid, timid, or otherwise not super expressive, that you make them feel comfortable and safe.
A comfortable pup will eventually learn to trust you, and then you’ll begin to notice their emotions come out! The longer you hang out with your pup and the more love you show them, the more expressive they’ll be with how they’re feeling!
By Katherine McCormick
Published: 03/18/2018, edited: 04/06/2020