We can generally tell what our furry companion is thinking by reading his body language; but do you often wonder if he experiences all of the emotions we do? What emotions do dogs truly feel? What has research discovered?
When you come home, you see your dog is happy to see you via body language. The wag of your dog’s tail and the happiness in her eyes tell you the story. Research has determined a dog’s brain is very similar to a human’s brain. The hormones we experience which trigger emotion are the same in both us and our dog. For example, we both release oxytocin which is the “happiness hormone.”
We, as scientists, have discovered dogs have limited emotional capacity meaning they do not understand and feel the way a human adult does; however, dogs do have the mental capacity of a two-and-a-half to three-year-old child. You can see a three year old child has plenty of emotions; however, their emotional range does not span as widely as an adult. Dogs are found to have this wide emotion range of a three-year-old by the time they are approximately six months of age.
Let’s take a look at several dog emotions. Laughter, for example, is able to be experience by a canine. Interesting, right? Have you ever been playing with your dog and hear an extra pant or two? This could actually be the equivalent of laughter in your dog. A researcher by the name of Patricia Simonet discovered this throughout research she had been conducting regarding canine emotions. Her study involved bringing a team of researchers to a park and, from a distance, recording the sounds dogs create while playing. In her research, she discovered a pant different from the normal pant.
Dogs have also been found to show grief. Dogs do not grieve the exact same way humans do; however, they do experience sadness when a family member passes away whether a person or another dog. If a family member is a lost, they may show a loss of appetite, anxiety, depression and lack of sleep. When a family member is lost, it is important for you to provide him time to grieve. Your dog will also take cues from you and it may take him longer to grieve if you are also grieving. Studies have shown most dogs return to normal approximately two weeks after a loss; however, some dogs take up to six months and even longer. If you become worried about your dog and he is having an extremely difficult time, he should be taken to the veterinarian to be examined.
Joy, of course, is another emotion dogs experience. Those who have had a canine companion can easily see this emotion. You can see joy when you walk in the door from even being gone several moments. You can also see joy while you are spending time with your dog.
Have you ever noticed when you are sad or happy, your dog also experiences a similar emotion? This is because, in addition to having their own emotions, they have the ability to read ours. Research has found dogs have the ability to look at us and tell exactly how we are feeling. A study was conducted to determine if dogs could distinguish between a happy person and a sad person simply within a photograph. Results determined the dogs were able to distinguish facial expressions and determine which person was happy within the photographs.
We are still working to discover more in regard to canine cognition and emotion; however, we do have several non-invasive methods to examine this. We are using electroencephalograms as well as heat imaging to learn more. For quite some time, scientists have known dogs experience emotions much similar to humans; however, we are now collecting the research to substantiate that claim.