The majority of people who own dogs can read them pretty well – owners recognise tell tale signs when their pet has been a little naughty, when they want to be let out and when they are ecstatic at the fact their beloved owners have returned home! It's all part of the friendship and bond that people build up with their four legged furry friends. But what other emotions dogs really experience?
Of course, there are other things a dog may do which can be thought of as them showing their emotions. This includes how they react when they spot another dog out on a walk. Your pet suddenly stops, their heckles up and they give a nice, throaty growl as they stare at the other dog. It's seems pretty obvious that your pet is not overly keen on the other dog, so this is obviously another emotion – or is it?
There is a lot of scientific controversy over what emotions dogs actually experience – and it will probably be a debate that lasts for a very long time. One of the loudest voices to claim that dogs and other animals did not feel emotions was a 16th century French scientist and philosopher called René Descartes. He claimed that animals were indeed just “machines”, that a breed of dog was simply a “chassis that happened to be dog shaped” and that it was “full of biological things” which were pretty much the same as the pulleys and gears commonly found in machines.
According to Descartes, a dog did not think but was programmed to do the things an owner wanted them to do – much like the modern day computer. His theories were expanded by another scientist called Nicholas de Malebranche who went on to state that dogs simply “acted” when they reacted to situations and did not actually “feel” anything at all. These classical scientists reinforced the idea that genetically, dogs were programmed to react to situations and if a danger was present, dogs would simply whimper and then proceed to run away.
Luckily for dogs (and their owners), things have progressed since then and modern day scientists have figured out that dogs do indeed possess the same brain structures that people have and these are the ones that produce emotions! Dogs also boast the same type of hormones as humans and they undergo the exact same chemical change that people experience when they are in an “emotional” state.
It has been proved that dogs have a hormone called oxytocin which in people is seen to be the hormone responsible for love and affection they feel for other people. So it stands to reason that dogs are capable of experiencing similar emotions to people. The key to understanding just what your pet might be feeling, is not to read too much into things – for the moment there is still some debate as to whether our four legged friends do in fact, feel the exact same emotions as people do.
To really understand just what emotions your dog is feeling, you need to consider what a young child feels in the early years of their lives. It's been shown that very young children have a more limited range of emotions and that these develop and expand over time. As they grow older, a child's emotions carry on developing right through to adulthood. Research has also shown that a dog's mind is around the same as that of a two year old child so it can be assumed their “emotional” development is at the same level as a child that age.
Babies start out life with very limited emotions, namely pure joy to being very upset! As they reach 2 months old, babies demonstrate a lot more in the way of emotions which includes anger, fear and even disgust! However, an infant only really shows pure joy when they are about 6 months old which is then followed by other emotions, namely shyness and even suspicion. It is only at ten months, an infant demonstrates pure “affection” and love. It is much later on in life that children start to develop more complex social emotions which includes pride, shame, guilt and at four years old, a child will show their contempt at things too.
Once you've understood this “emotional” development sequence as seen in young children, then it's possible to understand just what emotions your dog is capable of feeling with the difference being the development stages for our canine friends happens a lot faster. In short, a dog will have developed all their emotions by the time they are four to six months old – but this does depend on breeds too.
A dog, it is believed, reaches full “emotional maturity” when they are around two and bit years old, so our furry four legged friends are more than capable of feeling all the basic emotions which includes fear, joy, anger, disgust, affection and love. The debate is still out on whether dogs actually feel things like guilt, shame or pride - although many owners would argue the point that their pooches do know all about “guilt” - especially when they are caught with their paws in the cookie jar!
However, a scientific answer to what many owners perceive as “guilt” is in fact a more basic emotion – namely fear! An example would be if you get home to find your dog slinking around looking “guilty” and you find they've been naughty, maybe they had an “accident” on the kitchen floor, they are in fact slinking around not because they are feeling guilty, but because they are showing slight “fear”. The reason being that your pet may have been told off in the past for this type of behaviour. In short, your pet slinks around because they know they are going to be “told off” again!
Everyone who owns a dog (or two) knows that interacting with their pets is great fun and extremely rewarding. Knowing your pet is capable of showing their pure love and affection for you gives you a lovely warm feeling. The one thing you can be sure of is that your lovely four-legged friend's love for you is absolutely and utterly unconditional – unless you've got a treat in your pocket for them, that is!