Do dogs have emotions?
Do dogs have emotions? Of course they do! And dog owners are usually able to discern their companion’s moods from body language and facial expressions, sounds he makes and even the way he moves. Instinctively, we know if our dog is excited, happy, sad, frustrated or anxious.
However, this question is hotly debated among ethologists, especially since it is very difficult to quantify or measure emotions. While your dog clearly has a rich emotional life, scientists cannot determine exactly to what degree they are happy or afraid. Consequently, many have chosen to ignore emotions and the role they play in how a dog learns to behave or express itself.
What do we mean by emotions?
Emotions are feelings that cause dogs to react to an event or situation and it is also the way they feel after they have reacted in such a way. For example, the negative emotion of fearful dogs can prompt them to defend themselves, while the positive feelings of contact and touch can help them form and maintain relationships with other members of a group. Emotions can be divided into positive and negative emotions and can have increasing or decreasing intensity. For example, as an animal’s joy increases, pleasure changes to mirth and excitement, while frustration can turn into anger and fear and apprehension into anxiety and dismay. Animals with behavioral problems often tend to go to an extreme emotion at the time they exhibit their problematic behavior.
Recent research has shown that all mammals, including dogs, have seven basic emotional systems by which they respond to information transmitted to the brain through the senses. Specifically, these seven systems include a search system to detect food, a fear system to respond to events that are unfamiliar and potentially dangerous, a play system, and a grooming system to raise an offspring and form important social bonds.
Some areas of the human brain can process more complex emotions such as love, shame, contempt, fear and so on. Although we do not associate dogs with these “higher emotions,” this does not mean that they cannot feel fundamental emotions such as joy, sadness, anger and fear in the same way we do.
Modern ethologists realize that emotions are crucial to understanding animals, even though it seems impossible to measure these emotions accurately. They rely on emotions to treat behavioral problems in pets.
Understanding that dogs have emotions can lead to progress in other areas, including the treatment of behavioral problems such as aggressiveness, excessive grooming and nervousness. In general, an evaluation is done in three steps:
- An emotional evaluation of the dog at the time a problem is identified.
- An evaluation of the dog’s state of mind, mood and behavior in general.
A thorough evaluation that determines exactly what internal or external factors are contributing to the persistence of problem behavior, despite numerous attempts to eradicate it.
Rather than just observing their behavior, ethologists take into account the emotions that dogs feel in order to try to provide a more effective solution to these problems.
Being home alone is a problem for about half of all dogs, they can go:
- Bark or cry
- And sometimes they become unhousebroken
If your dog can’t be alone, it can affect your whole life. It is therefore the most common reason for getting rid of a dog. But… there is something you can do about it!
Which dogs have separation anxiety?
Dogs that can’t be home alone are usually very social and kind. They feel very connected to their owner and are therefore extremely affectionate. Those kinds of dogs stroll after their owner all day long. Are the beds made? The dog lies faithfully by watching. While preparing the meal, he lies in the kitchen. While watching television he likes to lie on the lap or next to his boss on the couch. If that is forbidden, he lies with his head on the foot of his boss. He loves physical contact. Where his boss goes, his attentive gaze follows.
Adult dogs and separation anxiety
Sometimes dogs that are already mature cannot stay home alone well. This can have several causes, for example:
- The dog was never taught to stay alone properly.
- The dog was taught to stay home alone and that went well, but then he did not have to stay home alone for a long time. When this did become necessary again, it was not rebuilt (think of situations after vacations or after unemployment of the boss).
- The dog has to stay alone too long and starts demolishing out of boredom.
- The dog has experienced something scary or annoying when he was alone (eg thunderstorms).
- There is a sudden change of circumstances, for example someone has left the household because of separation, children leaving home or death.
- The dog has been rehomed, or you have moved.
- Physical conditions can have an effect on staying alone, think of a bladder infection that makes the dog suddenly seem un housebroken, but other illnesses also have an effect on how the dog feels.
- Older dogs can suddenly start having problems staying alone because of changes in the brain (such as dementia).