Can Dogs Feel Hate?

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All dog owners will have said it at one time or another; "My dog hates dry food", "My dog hates the mailman", or "My dog hates big dogs." But have you stopped to think about exactly what you've just said? Hate is a strong, negative emotion that implies a thought process which ends in the subject deciding they don't like something. 

But do dogs go through this complex process, or is their negative response to a certain situation born out of anxiety, fear, or a learned aversion to steer clear of something? 

In fact, 'hate' in the way scientists define it, is not an emotion experienced by dogs. Indeed, their emotional development stops before they develop such complex emotions and instead the dog's reaction is actually an aversion or learned anxiety. 

Introduction of Can Dogs Feel Hate?

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Signs a Dog has an Aversion to Something

It is a classic case of misunderstanding to assume that dogs feel hate. What we see is the dog trying to escape from or avoid something that makes them anxious or fearful, or indeed become aggressive because by snapping they hope to make the fearful situation go away.Therefore, the signs that an owner may misinterpret as hate include signs of anxiety, fear, and also aggression. 

A fearful or anxious dog shows a number of classic behaviors, some well-known, others not so. For example, on meeting a dreaded larger dog in the park, a fearful dog may pull to try and go in the opposite direction. This isn't a sign of hate, but of aversion - it the same way we pull our hand away from a hot candle flame. We don't hate the candle, but realize it will hurt if we leave a finger in the flame. 

Other signs that indicate inner distress include excessive yawning, lip licking, raising a paw, and a submissive roll to display the belly. 

Conversely, an anxious dog may become aggressive in order to avoid the thing that makes them worried. This is often because they've learned that growling or snapping makes the situation go away, hence rewarding their aggression so it becomes a learned behavior. 

Body Language

The body language signs to be alert for that indicate an inner conflict, which could be misunderstood as hate, include:
  • Growling
  • Staring
  • Barking
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Ears drop

Other Signs

Other signs that will give you clues include:
  • Involuntary urination
  • Excessive yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Pulling away or avoiding the object

A History of Doggy Dislikes

History of Can Dogs Feel Hate?
For decades, centuries even, dogs have been misunderstood. 

Take the dog that growled at their master when they go to put the dog in the car. The out-dated dominance theory of dog behavior would say the dog is trying to dominate the owner and exert their will, rather than do what the owner wishes. In turn, this was considered a dangerous trend since if the dog was allowed to get away with not getting in the car, they would challenge the owner in other areas of daily life and eventually take control. 

However, we now know the dominance theory to be flawed and incorrect. The likelihood is the dog is growling because they associate car travel with feeling nauseous or visiting the vet. This makes the dog anxious, and they may become desperate enough to try avoiding the dreaded activity by growling. If the dog has previously learned that growling means they get their own way, this is a highly effective means of influencing events. (Please note, this doesn't mean you should never back down to a growling dog as you may well be injured if you continue to press a stressed dog.) 

The difference is in the outcome. Further press the stressed dog to get into the car and they may bite you. However, realize their dislike is passed on an aversion and this gives you the option to desensitise the dog to car travel and remove the problem without conflict. 

The Science of Canine Negative Reactions

Science of Can Dogs Feel Hate?
Hate is an advanced or secondary emotion, whilst dogs only experience primary emotions. These are those feelings involved with survival and help a dog steer clear of a dangerous situation. Thus, a dog can plain, old dislike the taste of a food and turn away, but it doesn't mean they hate it. For those dogs that show a powerful negative reaction to a certain person or situation, say meeting a large dog in the park, this is often the result of a negative association. 

Taking the 'big dog' example, it's likely the dog once encountered a large dog that was a bit too rough and this made them anxious. Their 'two plus two equals four' thinking, went along the lines that big dogs are dangerous and therefore best avoided. Then the dog learns that when they shake fearfully and pull away from the big dog, their owner picks them up. This reinforces to the dog that they were right to be fearful in the first instance. 

The signs the owner sees include the dog pulling away and shaking as if exhibiting a strong dislike or 'hate' of big dogs, whereas this is not the case but the dog's frightened or anxious and taking steps to alleviate their distress. 

Supporting a Dog with Aversive Behaviors

Training of Can Dogs Feel Hate?
Never force a dog to face their fears. It is a mistake to force the dog to confront what makes them fearful on the premise of making them see there was nothing to worry about after all. This invariably backfires as the dog struggles, more adrenaline is released, and their fear is reinforced rather than assuaged. 

Instead, it is best to desensitize the dog slowly, with a carefully staged exposure to the dreaded event or object. 

Let's take the example of a dog that's fearful of large dogs. The first stage is to enlist the help of a friend who owns a big dog. Have them stand at the end of the street, a sufficient distance away that your dog remains relaxed. Praise and reward your dog for remaining calm, despite the big dog in the distance. Then have the friend step the big dog one pace closer. If your dog remains calm, then continue to praise and reward them. Finish the session on a positive note, and resume the next time with the big dog at this new closer distance. 

Over time, the big dog becomes closer whilst your dog remains calm. The constant encouragement helps them understand there's nothing to worry about and builds their confidence. 

How to React When Your Dog Doesn't Like Something:

  • Do not force them further into the situation.
  • Try to pinpoint what exactly is causing their fear or anxiety.
  • Work on desensitizing them from their fear.