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How Do Dogs Show Emotions?

Because dogs cannot express their feelings linguistically, their barks or howls might indicate various canine emotions.
Ethology is the study of animal behavior.
A dog might indicate boredom or frustration by scratching.
Primates are a common subject in studies that explore animal emotions.
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  • Written By: Cathy Rogers
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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Various studies have shown that dogs show emotions such as love, grief, jealousy and fear. The scientific confirmation of animal emotions is relatively recent. According to studies by a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, researchers found dogs to be fairly emotionally complex, with four specific areas of personality: competence, emotional stability, affection and sociability. These components are very similar to the categories of human personality.

Many dog owners are not surprised that dogs show emotions. Some researchers, however, argue that animals do not have emotions, but rather that they respond to various incentives, for example food. Others believe that dogs react instinctively, not emotionally. Some scientists agree that dogs show emotions such as fear or alarm, but don’t necessarily agree that dogs can feel love or guilt. Others readily admit that canines have emotions, but that they are not the same as human emotions.

Some animal behaviors, including hygiene behaviors such as scratching or grooming, can also indicate frustration or boredom. For example, a dog might increase the frequency of these behaviors when in situations of tension, uncertainty or looming danger, just as a human might tug at his or her hair or bite his or her nails. Many studies of animal emotions involve primates, but studies are common with dogs and other animals, as well.

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In early 2008, Hungarian scientists tested software that could potentially discern the emotions behind a dog’s bark in various situations. The initial study involved 14 herding dogs as they played, fought, spotted a ball, went on walks, were alone, and encountered a stranger. It is thought that because dogs cannot express their feelings linguistically, the bark might indicate various canine emotions.

A study by a psychologist and animal behavior expert in England determined that dogs show emotions such as jealousy, shame, embarrassment, anxiety, pride, anger and surprise. In this particular study, dogs experienced jealousy more frequently than other animal species, including hamsters, rabbits, cats, pigs and horses. It is thought that because dogs are social creatures they would experience several societal type of emotions.

Ethology is the study of animal behavior. As the field has advanced, other specialties have arisen, including the study of animal emotions, animal communication and sexual conduct. These advanced fields are likely to continue to research the depth of dogs' emotions.

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anon948244
Post 10

I am an older male who owned a yellow lab. He was definitely a Marley dog! He was my hunting partner, buddy and grandkids' pillow/ horse! He loved them.

Since I have cardiac issues I trained him that when I stop walking, he stops too. During the training, I would get to the top of the hill where he could see my truck. He would bolt and get all the way there and jump in the back. Then I would yell, "Ollie!" and he would look at me like, "Oh crap. I screwed up!" Then he would run to my side. He learned to stay by me. Unfortunately, he lost his life to bone cancer and I gave up hunting pheasants. I cannot bring myself to get another yellow lab, because once you have the best lab, no other will do.

anon152557
Post 6

I have a six month old lab. I am so close to him and it's almost like he talks to me in body form.

I ask if he's been naughty and he'll submissively put his ears back, slowly /quietly come over to me virtually climb up me as tall as he can, begging for me to lower my face to him. He then gives me two licks on my cheek. Now. if that isn't apologising, I've no idea what it is.

If i have ever slightly raised my voice-i did it once-he was sitting the other side of a door frame and peered round again the ears went back but there was such a look on his face (i nearly laughed) but he was pleading to come and say sorry.

My dog is very responsive and sensitive. I don't need to raise my voice, let alone shout, he gives proper cuddles with his paws on either side of my neck, he curls his pads somehow to pull you close, he places or rubs his cheek next to ours and can sit like that happily for ages.

He has an ashamed face if he goofs up, and he has a proud, serious head like when he's watching tv and he pretends we're not there. So yes, dogs do have emotions. Maybe some don't have a conscience.

anon114710
Post 5

Animals for sure show emotions. that is an ignorant comment that they don't! if you spend enough time with various animals, it is almost scary how human-like they are.

even within different types of dogs, they have individual "personalities" how could that be a "response" or "reaction"/"instinct" when different animals react differently to the same stimuli/situation?

separation of animals/emotions seems to be a story many people use to justify inhumane treatment of animals (i.e. they're "just" dogs/cows/pigs, it's not like they feel). please treat animals with love and care!

anon111323
Post 4

Dogs definitely have emotions. The people that I come across that say that they do not are always people who are ignorant about dogs in general.

anon107069
Post 3

Rubbish. Dogs only respond to stimuli. What humans perceive as emotion are simply learned behaviors which dogs know to elicit a response in their human owner. That's it. Some argue that the animals reaction to stimuli can be labeled as a form of emotion. I suppose if one were to liberally interpret the word emotion, than that would be fine.

anon84615
Post 2

My Husky carries his toys and puts them in bed or on the couch to sleep with them. He has fathered a litter of pups about four months ago and does not live with them. Could he be thinking the toys are his pups or is he just guarding them?

anon15915
Post 1

Hi, we have two GSPs male and female, they clearly show emotions, respond to separate spoken words and appear to associate or understand the meaning. If you speak in a quiet tone and say they have been naughty, they swallow like some children when confronted by some event. Interesting as dogs are closer aligned to home living and socialized there may be a lot more discovered about their ability to understand.

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