AKC Gazette Column – Emotional Behavior in Dogs

AKC Gazette

March 2001

WILLIAM ANDREE

EMOTIONAL BEHAVIOR IN DOGS

 

Authorities may differ, but many of us who have lived with canines any length of time are convinced that our pets routinely display a variety of very humanlike emotions. Many of us believe that our dogs not only have feelings but are capable of processing information – that is, thinking.

Whoa! That’s a stretch, you say. Aren’t most of these perceived behaviors just simple animal-reflex responses to physical and sensory stimuli?

While actual scientific proof that animals – wild or domesticated – have sufficient brain power to experience thoughts and feelings remains in dispute, it is very difficult for most owners not to believe that their canine pets possess rational and emotional behaviors.

I have witnessed just too many unmistakable examples of canine emotion, especially in Bulldogs, to cause me to believe otherwise. The very idea that our dogs are incapable, for example, of feeling joy and sadness or pride and embarrassment is absolutely foreign to most pet owners.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that Bulldogs feel a deeply emotional attachment to certain humans and not others, as well as to some dogs. I believe they also feel jealousy and envy, which can sometimes lead to feelings of anger and in certain instances aggression.

Bulldogs are also renowned for streaks of stubbornness and periods of pouting. All of these simply cannot be written off as mere learned behaviors or automatic responses.

Too many times I have seen my dogs selectively ignore certain of my commands, not because they don’t understand them, but because they do.

Fear, apprehension and even suspicion are also evident in canines, most often in kennel dogs that have been deprived of sufficient interaction with humans and other dogs.

When properly socialized, most Bulldogs are far more anxious to please their owners than to displease them. They often exhibit rejection when ignored and shame when reprimanded.

They feel unbounded happiness when praised and excitement when invited to participate in an activity with humans, such as a walk around the block or a trip in the car or van.

Without prior notice they will issue you an invitation to play by offering you one of their toys, then feel elation when you drop what you are doing and comply with their wishes.

Many of my housedogs have also been known to tease me just for the fun of it and to show off without being encouraged in any way to do so. While sometimes annoying, begging and unsolicited kisses are further evidence that dogs have both a rational and an emotional side to their nature.

You may call it an animal instinct if you wish, but when you’re feeling particularly sad or especially happy, your pet is more likely than not to process this information and adjust its behavior accordingly.

It is impossible to know what your pet is feeling when you are away, but is there any mistake about how it feels when you return home after a long absence?

  1. William Andree, 204 S. Beach Dr., Monticello, IN 47960.