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Do dogs experience the same emotions as humans?

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Canine psychology is always progressing as field of research. Around a couple of decades ago, the focus for the scientific study of animal behaviour would more likely have been directed towards external actions rather than the internal life and emotional makeup of the animal. However now, biologists and neuroscientists are conducting more and more studies in order to build up a detailed picture of the internal lives of animals. This pursuit of knowledge becomes especially fascinating in the case of dogs, as they are a more or less unique example of an animal which became domesticated so early on in the evolutionary life span that their emotional development will have been shaped alongside their human companions.

Domesticated Wolves

It is thought that dogs became the animals they are now from their wolf descendants anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. What makes dogs so special is that they were the first animals to become domesticated. Some experts suggest that this may not have even been initiated by humans but instead by the wolves themselves, as they may have decided to moderate their behaviour when they saw that food was readily available to be provided to them by humans.

Thousands of years down the line, and dogs now have a distinct set of behavioural patterns to that of wolves. Some of these aspects of their character reveal the dependence of dogs on humans, such as the fact that, where wolves have been observed to continue to try and solve a task no matter how long it takes, dogs are more likely look to their human friends to tell them what to do when they cannot work out how to do something for themselves immediately. Though, the fully domesticated status of dogs and their well established emotional bond with humans also opens up new avenues of understanding between humans and animals.

Basic Emotional Responses

It is true that all animals assessed as of yet, including dogs, have been revealed to have brain structures similar enough to that of humankind for them to experience basic emotions. With regards to your dogs, it will come as no surprise to hear that these emotional responses which may be occurring in the mind of your canine friend may include joy, fear, anger, disgust, excitement, happiness, distress, and even love. This is due to the way in which a dog’s brain when fully developed, scientists have proposed, is just about comparable to a human of between two and three years old.

For this reason, studies reveal also that, even though it may sometimes appear otherwise in individual cases, dogs are in fact unable to experience more complex or reflective emotions such as pride, guilt, shame or contempt, which would require an advanced cerebral capacity. When it seems as though your dog is expressing guilt, what is actually being displayed is simply fear, as your dog will be sensing that it is being told off and therefore is reacting to the unpleasant feeling of being punished in the moment rather than reflecting on the moral or ethical implications of whether its own actions in themselves were right or wrong.

Recognition of Human Behaviour

With that said, the tens of thousands of years living alongside humans has meant that dogs, according to those scientists attempting to build up an accurate map of the minds of our longest serving pets, have certainly developed an effective and precise mode of processing the world around them which is acutely attuned to human behaviour. Therefore, though it cannot be stated currently that dogs have a theory of mind and though it would be inaccurate to suggest that they have the capability to feel complex emotions, we can be sure that they are able to understand human body language and, by extension and perhaps inadvertently, human moods and emotions just as well if not better than is the case between humans and other humans.


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