Can Dogs Feel Enthusiasm?

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Introduction

Dogs are notorious for their consistently sunny disposition. Whether they’re going for a walk, playing with their favorite toy, or welcoming their human home from a long day at work, dogs seem to have an infectious enthusiasm for life!

But how much of their temperament is down to enthusiasm? Can they differentiate the unique emotion, or are their actions more accurately informed by happiness and excitement?

Let’s take a closer look at the ability of our furry friends to experience the feeling of enthusiasm. We’ll discuss behavioral signs, the historical and scientific background, and relevant training techniques. Let’s jump in!

Signs a Dog Feels Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is a unique emotion that is often complemented by other feelings, such as happiness, excitement, anticipation, and a sincere interest in the matter at hand. For dogs, the complexity of this concept might be outside of their emotional remit, but there certainly are behavioral signs that would indicate their ability to feel some form of enthusiasm.

Let’s take an example. Imagine your dog has just been given a new toy. It’s the perfect texture, size, and it makes an attractive squeaking noise. Your dog is pretty pleased about it. At the end of each day, the toy is put away, and every morning it’s returned to your dog. What kind of behavior might you expect?

Once the dog realizes the significance of the toy, their initial response will likely be a brief moment of staring, followed by a wagging tail and jumping up to reach it. Their ears will be raised; a sign of positive interest. They may bark or howl, but this isn’t due to distress; it’s simply an indicator of their enthusiasm to be reunited with the toy!

When the toy is given to them, they may sniff it briefly, or paw at it, to confirm it’s what they’re expecting. They will then begin playing with the toy. Depending on your dog’s usual behavior, they might bring it to you to engage in a game of tug-of-war or fetch, or they might prefer to play with it on their own.

Due to excitement, your dog might start to pant. This is normal. However, if they seem to be overexerting themselves and panting heavily, it’s a good idea to temporarily restrict play to prevent overheating.

Body Language

Signs your dog is feeling enthusiastic include:
  • Barking
  • Panting
  • Jumping up
  • Howling
  • Wag tail

Other Signs

More signs that your pup feels enthusiasm are:
  • Waiting near a door or window
  • Standing near their food bowl
  • Getting excited before play

History of Dogs Feeling Enthusiasm

The psychological profile of dogs has been studied for centuries. René Descartes, a seventeenth-century French philosopher, looked to explain canine behavior and deduced that they were simply elaborate machines. Of course, we now know that assertion to be wrong, but his work provided a springboard for further research into the emotional structure of man’s best friend.

Dogs have always been known for their enthusiastic disposition. It’s what makes them such cherished companions. Neuroscientist Gregory Burns has recently conducted research into why our furry friends are so upbeat. He has deduced that unlike humans, who can grasp abstract concepts such as enthusiasm, the spectrum of canine emotion is much simpler. So while a dog may not be able to feel specifically enthusiastic, they are capable of being happy and excited, which approximates aspects of the human experience of this emotion.

Anecdotal evidence supports this. Dog owners know how enthusiastic their pets can seem when a human returns home, if it’s time for a walk, when their dinner is ready, the arrival of a new toy, and countless other situations. Dogs may not feel enthusiasm in exactly the same way that we do, but it doesn’t prevent them from displaying excitable behavior.

Science Behind Dogs Feeling Enthusiasm

As we discussed above, the current understanding of canine emotion is such that abstract concepts—for example, enthusiasm—are not relevant to dogs. Humans have evolved to possess enhanced analytical skills, which gives us the ability to experience an expanded range of emotions.

That said, the structure of human and canine brains is actually pretty similar. Both receive messages from around the body (and vice versa), thanks to neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Dogs, like humans, also have oxytocin in their systems; this is the hormone responsible for feelings of affection. So when your dog is super excited to see you after time apart, oxytocin certainly plays a role!

Training of Dogs to Feel Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is an innate feeling. It might not be possible to train a dog to feel a certain way, but in most cases, you won’t have to! Dogs are naturally positive, but there are techniques you can use to encourage enthusiastic behavior. You might even need to help your dog to manage its excitability better, particularly if it leads to overexertion. Let’s take a look at both scenarios.

If you find that your dog is not as enthusiastic as others you have owned, or has experienced a lower mood than usual, there could be a reason behind it. If you have a rescue dog, they may have suffered a traumatic past that makes them hesitant to display enthusiastic behaviors. Similarly, if a dog has had a recent illness or injury, they may be noticeably more cautious.

Gentle encouragement is the best approach here. Provide your dog with something that would usually invite an enthusiastic response, such as a toy or a ball. If they seem disinterested, place the object close to them. Most of the time, this will encourage them to take an interest. Reward this with a treat or fuss.

How to React to Your Dog Feeling Enthusiasm:

  • If your dog is feeling overly enthusiastic, show them lots of attention and enjoy the pure happiness. In the event this leads to behavioral problems, consider new training methods to help calm your dog down.