Look at a dog chasing the ball or trotting happily by their owner’s side on a daily walk. Do they look like they are enjoying the process, or are dogs on a wavelength we can’t understand?
Dog owners will swear their dogs know the meaning of happiness but there are still skeptics who find reasons why this is not so. They believe dogs are just going through the motions of enjoyment, without actually feeling what is. That would imply they are fur-baby robots that are somehow designed to simulate human emotions. Do we have a nation of cybernetic dogs? Or are they able to feel enjoyment the way humans can.
Signs a Dog Can Feel Enjoyment
When dogs appear to be having fun, they wag their tail with glee and want their owner to get in on the action by play-bowing with their favorite toy. The joy is infectious as happy hounds stimulate our mental pleasure zone and get us high on their apparent euphoria. Most doggy people think their dogs love them - and it’s as simple as that.
Neuroscientists at Emory University have put this theory to the test, wanting to know if a dog's affection for humans was primarily food driven. Selections of pups were trained to lie down in an MRI scanner and the researchers were able to see how the reward centers in their brain reacted to praise and food - plus facial recognition. Most of the time, when one of the dogs saw their owners, this part of their brain lit up like a Christmas tree.
The study showed dogs, in general, will choose their owners over their favorite treat, knocking out of the ballpark the doubters who can’t accept dogs form strong bonds with people. This doggy-love tale was talked about in Fortune.
The proof is in the doggy paws, as they clown around in the dog park imitating other mutts' movements with mouths open, drooling all over the grass. They appear to be having a happy, tail-wagging time bobbing up and down as they initiate play with doggy pals from the neighborhood. Any observer would consider the dogs are enjoying every moment.
Dogs know how to enjoy themselves as they let out a happy bark or wolfy-howl when they know it's walk time. They especially feel the fondness when you scratch behind their ears or see them naughtily sniff your grocery bags to find you’ve remembered their favorite treats. They’ll be head-bobbing and licking their lips as they avert your eyes, hoping they weren’t seen.
The History of Dogs Feeling Enjoyment
In order for a dog to feel the enjoyment of play, eating, or hanging out with their favorite human, they would need to have emotions.
The idea of woofers being able to comprehend affection was slammed by Renee Descartes, a French, 17th-century philosopher and scientist who had a powerful impact on the time. This was the logic of science, so his statement that animals were devoid of a consciousness and incapable of feeling pain or fear, was adhered to by many.
He also likened animals to a sack of potatoes. This implied that dogs and other animals were on auto-pilot and every action was akin to a knee-jerk reaction, where a pup would do something without thinking. The new age of science put dogs back in the kennel and gave worldly citizens, an "Aha," moment, as they began to look at their family pet in a negative light.
Up until these wild and paw-shocking statements, mankind appeared to have a friendly relationship with dogs. Ancient civilization believed dogs were a connection to the afterlife, while others embraced their companionship and abilities to guard and herd cattle and sheep.
Ancient Encyclopedia informs us that archeologists found evidence of domesticated dogs in Turkey dating back 12,000 BCE. A dog mosaic and other artwork highlight our early pups were hunting dogs and companions, who wore leads and collars in the Mesopotamia period, some 5000 plus years ago!
The "dumb dog" label stuck with dogs until the advent of modern science when a new breed of psychologists and scientists challenged the Descartes belief.
Charles Darwin was the 20th-century philosopher/scientist to offer hope to animals with his evolutionary theory - we are all connected. His thoughts on how man and animals were created was not a popular principle, but science was listening. In the 21st century, researchers blew the lid off stodgy thinking to celebrate the news, our amazing dogs were of course sentient.
The Science of Dogs Feeling Enjoyment
Scientists love facts and until researchers put dogs under the MRI scanner and took a paw-peek inside the inner workings of their mind – they assumed dogs were devoid of emotion. Our white-coated analysts insisted dogs could only be assessed on what they do.
Ask a dog owner if their Retriever feels pain and they’ll tell you it’s true. If a pup stands on a sharp object, they are likely to whimper and limp in agony. Ask again if their dog feels enjoyment and the answer is bound to be the same.
Wildlife observers have been saying for years that animals are capable of emotions, while science head-butted the concept. Now, it’s all about how they feel these emotions and enjoyment, not if they can.
Dogs are highly social, which implies the ability to feel and think. The University of Vienna studied dogs to see if they understand what’s going on in our heads. Around 53 pups were asked to listen to happy and sad sounds made by human and other mutts. Dogs were able to differentiate between the sounds, showing a form of empathy and shared emotion toward us and their doggy mates.
Vox furthered this thinking with a known biologist explaining that when dogs physically feel pain, the nerves in the skin are the first to react with motor neurons causing the “jump out of your skin effect," us humans experience. If dogs can feel pain then its common sense they can feel enjoyment.
Training Your Dog to Enjoy Things
In order for a dog to feel enjoyment in its everyday life, it is essential they are socialized with people and other woofers. Like humans, our dogs need interaction to gain confidence and happiness in the world. A pup that has been kept from hanging out with other dogs and people is usually fearful and insecure. Some can even become aggressive, as they have not learned how to mingle with others. We all want our canine champs to feel enjoyment, so socialization is essential for a well-rounded mutt to love their life.
Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer extraordinaire, believes positive reinforcement techniques are the key to creating a happy dog and owner. Teaching basic cues and having fun doing it will encourage a dog to feel the enjoyment they deserve. Her “No Force” methods have come under the spotlight, but if you think how children learn, it makes sense to put the emphasis on encouragement, not force.
Kids are taught life skills and how to get on with people, and hopefully animals, from a very early age. They take their cues from family members and enjoy learning how to function in a confusing world. Children who have not been socialized will have no concept of playful manners and could grow up to bully - the same way a dog could view people as something to fear.
The concept of positive training is based on the thinking that humans work for rewards and praise and so should dogs. They learn how to do what is asked of them without their spirit being broken in the process. Treats, hand signals, toys, and even games are used to inspire good behavior and develop a happy dog that enjoys the process of learning.
The author of “The Love That Dog Training Method,” is an advocate of this gentle style of training and helped shape the Obama’s pup, a Portuguese water dog named Bo. Science has compelling proof that dogs are emotional creatures and are able to feel enjoyment in their lives. What do you think?
By a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole
Published: 03/16/2018, edited: 04/06/2020