3 min read


Can Dogs Feel Like a Failure?



3 min read


Can Dogs Feel Like a Failure?


Failure is one of the hardest things to handle as a human. At a young age, we are taught we have to be the best to have the best. When we fail, it sometimes feels as if the world is ending. This seems to come from some evolutionary roots. 

So, if this is the case, does that mean your dog understands and maybe even feels bad when they fail too? Interestingly, research is still unsure. Either way, it seems that dogs can experience sadness, which can be closely related to failure. So, it’s important to watch for signs of sadness in your dog.


Signs Your Dog Might be Feeling Sad

Every dog expresses themselves differently, so your experience might vary. However, here are a few general signs you might notice if your pup is feeling down. They might whimper or cry at you. They might also howl or cower, even, depending on what’s bothering them. Again, every dog is so different, so how they each react will be different as well.

There are a few other signs researchers have noted as they've observed depressed dogs, though. PetMD notes that you might notice your dog's appetite going away and they might seem lethargic. 

Some dogs even develop anxiety and become aggressive. This can lead to destructive behaviors. You might not even notice these behaviors right away because your dog might exhibit them when you aren't around. So, it is critical to be observant to any changes in your dog's behavior and take action.

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog is feeling sad:

  • Whining
  • Cowering
  • Howling
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

Here are some signs your dog might be feeling depressed:

  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Lethargic
  • Anxious Behavior
  • Agression
  • Destructive Behavior

History of Dogs and Failure


Historically, emotions in humans have been around for a very, very long time. It's a big part of how humans interact with the world and other people. Emotions control so much of how humans' daily life is lived. It's pretty critical for humans to have emotions to interact properly with the world and within cultures that have been built. 

Failure, or not being the best, is also crucial to human development and surviving in the real world, though it is a painful emotion to go through, at times. As for your pup, the jury is really out on if dogs can feel emotions such as failure. Many dog owners absolutely swear that their dogs experience happiness and sadness, though.

Science Behind Dogs and Failure


So, maybe dogs can feel some emotions, but can they actually experience feelings of failure? Interestingly, it's tough to find much research on this topic. Most articles center around whether a dog can experience emotions. These articles mainly focus on happiness and sadness. 

However, this information is still relevant. If a dog can't experience happiness or sadness, then they probably don't feel failure, right? It turns out, that animals can feel some emotions, but they don't experience them the way that humans do. PetMD says "Dogs don’t have self-consciousness or the ability to ruminate inward that humans have." However, they do go on to say that dogs do experience negative emotions, and we know that because of their body language.

To take it a step further, we know dogs understand competition to an extent because, historically, they had to compete for food and resources. Domesticated dogs don't have to do this as much now, but they still understand the concept of competing for resources. So, what if they don't get resources? They probably understand the concept of not getting what they needed and the consequences of what happened, but the emotion of failure? Perhaps not - we just don't have enough information to backup the theory.

Training Your Dog to Understand Failure


To train your dog to understand emotions like failure is impossible. There are just some things that you can't teach a dog. These sorts of things would be a known behavior, not taught.

It is important to keep an eye on your pup's mental health, though. If your family is experiencing big changes, like a move or a family member leaving, observe your pup closely. PetMD makes a few great suggestions for things you can do to help a depressed dog. They mentioned giving your dog a safe space, giving them plenty of exercise, and rewarding any happy behavior, like a tail wag. 

It's also very important to not make a dog face what's bothering them. That can be detrimental to their healing. If you observe any concerning, out-of-character behavior, or you can't get a handle on the behavior, it might be time to call your vet. It's better to be safe than sorry.

So, can a dog feel failure? Maybe not in the sense that a human does - we need more research on the topic to give a better answer.

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By Katie Anderson

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

Wag! Specialist
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