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- Can Dogs Feel Hope?
Can Dogs Feel Hope?
Hope is an important part of the human experience, allowing us to look forward to the future. Without hope, life can feel pretty bleak.
But do our furry friends share the ability to feel the rush of anticipation, or are they more focused on the here and now? Our understanding of canine psychology is still evolving, and there is evidence to suggest they are able to experience distinct emotions. However, the nuanced feeling of hope, informed and enhanced by other emotions, might be outside of their remit.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the behaviors that a dog might display when they are feeling hopeful or optimistic, the historical and scientific context, and relevant training techniques. Let’s jump in!
Signs of Dogs Feeling Hope
The human feeling of hope is usually intertwined with complimentary emotions, such as happiness, anticipation, optimism, and expectation. While a dog may not display unique behaviors that precisely indicate hope, there can be signs that they are excited about something they suspect is going to happen, such as going for a walk or being fed.
Let’s take the example of going for walk. Your dog may begin to anticipate it based on your behaviors, such as putting on your shoes, zipping up your coat, or grabbing your dog’s leash. The latter, in particular, is almost certainly going to grab their attention!
For most dogs, the prospect of going for a walk is one of the best things that can happen to them. Once they’ve noticed the indicators, they will likely begin to show signs of excitement and joy. This usually begins with wagging their tail and jumping up, particularly if you’re holding their leash or tennis ball.
There may also be vocal indicators of excitement, usually barking. Your dog might also whine, cry, or howl, but this is not borne of distress. Sometimes it’s simply because they’re eager to get going!
If your dog anticipates that they are about to be fed, they will also display signs of excitement, as described above. They may also go to their usual feeding spot and pace around, and they have been known to whine. If they suspect you’re taking too long, they might come to find you, jump up, and howl. The ears will be raised and they’ll be wagging their tail.
You may also find that your dog has the uncanny ability to know when one or more of their humans are due home, or they might hear the arrival of a car before you’ve even noticed. In these cases, dogs will again demonstrate excitement, but they are also likely to go to the front door and wait, or paw at the door itself. Some dogs are so convinced that a human is due to return that they will howl or bark until their expectation is met. These behaviors may need some correction if they prove too disruptive, or if the dog shows signs of distress or separation anxiety.
History of Dogs Feeling Hope
French Philosopher René Descartes was one of the first to attempt to understand canine behavior. However, his analysis incorrectly concluded that dogs were actually machines, and that emotion did now play a part in explaining their temperament.
Over time, the scientific community has conducted countless studies and determined that the brain structure and emotional pathways in canines are actually pretty similar to humans. Dogs and humans both use neurotransmitters and hormones to send messages to the brain, which then directs emotional and behavioral responses. That said, dogs do not have the same analytical skills, nor the emotional breadth of humans.
While we do not know if dogs can specifically feel hope, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that they are able to anticipate things. Whereas humans can conceptualize the future, dogs live in the here and now, so the events they anticipate tend to be short-term, such as the examples we discussed previously; that is, going for a walk or having dinner.
On YouTube, there are countless videos showing dogs eagerly awaiting food. In some, they wait patiently beside their bowl, while others are more assertive, jumping into their humans’ laps or howling until they’re allowed to chow down. So while hope may not be in the canine emotional profile, anticipation certainly seems to be!
Science of Dogs Feeling Hope
Through extensive research, scientists have found that dogs and humans share the same infrastructure when it comes to emotion. Neurotransmitters, such as a dopamine and serotonin, are responsible for carrying messages from all over the body to the brain, and vice versa. It’s recently been discovered that dogs also possess quantities of oxytocin, the chemical that allows both humans and their pets to feel affection.
Hope is a complex emotion that is informed by other feelings, such as happiness and anticipation. It is assumed that dogs do not have the same understanding of time that humans do, so they may not be able to look to the future with hope. Instead, it seems that they can recognize daily patterns and expect when they are about to happen again.
Training of Dogs Feeling Hope
According to our current understanding of canine emotions and behavior, it’s not possible to train dogs specifically to feel hope. However, there are ways of managing disruptive behavior caused by canine anticipation, such as running riot when dinner is due.
If your dog begins misbehaving before they are due a feed, the first step is to ignore the behavior as much as you can. As we all know, this can be tricky! Do not acknowledge any barking, howling, or jumping up, as this reinforces the behavior and demonstrates to the dog that they can get what they want just by acting up.
Instead, command your dog to sit down on the floor. If they comply, give them a reward, such as a small treat or an affectionate scratch in the ear. If they do not comply, point to the ground and do not give them any additional attention until they obey. Eventually, you will be able to manage the behavior without any treats; simply pointing to the ground should stop a tantrum in its tracks!
By Charlotte Ratcliffe
Published: 06/22/2018, edited: 04/06/2020
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