Can Dogs Feel Resentment?

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Introduction

As a dog owner, you know that your dog feels emotions pretty deeply. You've seen your pup get jealous, you've seen your doggo get mad, and you've probably even seen them act out to get attention - all signs that your dogs can feel specific emotions. So, you're probably wondering, what else can dogs feel? Is your dog able to hold onto a grudge or resent you? 

It's a fair question, and probably one you've wanted answered every time you've had to punish your poor pooch. How are you to know if your doggo doesn't have a grudge they're holding on to from that one time that you had to lock them in the crate for the day after they chewed up your favorite pillows?

We're here to provide you with a little relief: No, your dog can't resent you, not exactly, anyway.

While it's possible that your dog can harbor feelings of frustration, jealousy, or other emotions, it's important to remember that your dog isn't consciously making the choice to feel these things. Your dog doesn't have the capacity to discern why they're feeling certain ways or to act intentionally because of those specific things, either. 

Instead, your dog has a stimulus based, cause-and-reaction sort of thing going on. So, while you think your dog might have peed on the carpet because you yelled at them earlier (and they very well may have), it's less of an "I resent you, mom" feeling and more of a "this seems like an appropriate or learned reaction." 

Want to know more about your dog's emotions and how you can discern the difference between resentment and reaction? Read on! 

Signs Your Dog May Show that Look Like Resentment

While dogs do experience emotions, resentment is a pretty complex and human-specific feeling that dogs don't necessarily have the capacity to form. Sure, your dog can give you resentment or grudge-like reactions to certain things, but they're not actively able to make the association between your actions and they're reactions because of a certain feeling.

Your dog has a bad short-term, episodic memory, meaning they're likely to forget certain events almost right after they happen. They do, however, have strong associative memory, which might cause them to react a certain way and may cause you to believe that your dog is holding a grudge or acting resentful. 

Certain behaviors can dictate this thought process, such as excessive or repetitive barking, sniffing, biting, scratching, and howling. Your dog also might be giving off resentful behavior toward other dogs or humans with behaviors like growling, barking, yelping, nipping, or lunging. 

Body Language

Here are a few body language characteristics you should look out for if you think your dog might be giving off resentful-like behavior:
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Panting
  • Ears drop
  • Low tail carriage
  • Tail tucking
  • Ears back

Other Signs

Here are a few other signs you might want to watch out for:
  • Destructive behavior
  • Nipping or biting
  • Territorial or aggressive behavior
  • Lunging or attacking

History of Dog Emotions

The idea that dogs can feel certain emotions is something that's widely debated throughout the veterinarian and animal psychiatrist and behaviorism industries, and often, people rarely come to a simple, concrete answer. What you might now know is that this concept has been widely debated for centuries. 

In fact, this has been a common topic of debate since ancient times, and was a widely criticized and debated in early years of the church (around the 1500s) by French philosopher, Rene Descartes. According to Descartes, animals only have similar mechanical functions to people, they don't maintain the ability, like people do, to have consciousness and emotions. 

Others, though, like, Stanley Coren, a dog behavioral scientist, think that dogs can feel things like love, anger, and depression, but are not able to process more complex, human-specific emotions like resentment, guilt, or shame.

The Science Behind Resentment

Resentment is a deeply complicated and human emotion that dogs, according to a slew of behaviorists and scientists, are not believed to be capable of. To better explain why, it's important to first understand what exactly resentment is. 

Resentment is a human emotion that people feel in order to explain misfortune and something that people use to help insulate feelings of disappointment. Resentment is, most of the time, a constant, bitter indignation as a result of being treated unfairly. 

Dogs are unable to grasp this human emotion because they're not able to discern what's fair and what's not, and they're also not able to consciously decide to hold a grudge based on a certain experience due to their poor short term, episodic memory.

Training Your Dog Out of Negative Associations

You might think that you're stuck with your poor pup and his or her negative association behaviors - you know the kind we're talking about, they look an awful lot like your dog holding a grudge or being resentful. But, you can certainly learn how to train your dog out of negative associations. 

For example, if your dog has learned to associate barking or nipping with a certain dog they don't get along with at the park, you can teach your dog to disassemble this association and retrain them correctly. How do you do this? Start by teaching your dog a new response.

If your dog has essentially trained himself to behave a certain way around a dog or a person, you need to ensure your dog understands that behavior is unacceptable. How? With consistency. 

Keeping a close eye on your dog and punishing them when they react adversely, as well as consistently rewarding them when they don't, will work wonders for your dog. Be proactive, too. Ensure that you're telling other people in your dog's life to help cement new cues into your dog's head to help discontinue the negative associations. 

How to React if Your Dog has a Negative Association:

  • Attempt to retrain them out of their behavior.
  • Avoid having your animal around the person or animal.
  • Work with a trainer or a behaviorist to get your dog retrained.
  • Discuss options with your vet.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog Feeling Resentment!