Do Dogs Have Emotions?

Do Dogs Have Emotions?

The question of whether other animals besides humans experience emotions has pretty much been solved. The answer is yes. The question is, are those emotions like ours? And are their emotions as complex as ours? The debates still rages. One thing is clear: science has a hard time measuring things like behavior and drawing conclusions from those observations. Many studies that have been conducted in the last 10 years have disproven the studies and assertions previously made about animals and what emotions experience. The short answer is, they experience much more than we give them credit for.


Fear is a very basic emotion. Nearly all animals are capable of experiencing fear. It’s not a difficult emotion to observe or to measure. The heart rate increases, respiration increases, and there are many outward physical signs that can be observed. Some of the signs are widened eyes, tense body posture, shaking muscles, uncontrolled urination, and many more.


Happiness or joy is quite easy to observe, however many researchers are not entirely sure if the type of happiness a dog experiences is the same type of happiness that people experience. It’s a much more complex emotion to measure. There are many facets to joy: joy, happiness, excitement, etc. All these are separate emotions in people and are probably separate emotions in a dog, but that subtle difference is hard to distinguish. One of the main reasons we can distinguish them in people is because most of the time the person is able to tell you specifically what emotion he is experiencing. This is obviously not possible for a dog.


Guilt is a complex emotion. Guilt requires that you feel shame for a behavior or an act that you committed previously. It assumes that the animal experiencing the guilt is able to retain the memory of the behavior that he feels guilty over. This is an extremely tough emotion to measure. You can’t ask the dog if he is feeling bad over something he did an hour ago or if he is feeling bad because you discovered what he did an hour ago. There have been many studies that both prove the existence of and the absence of guilt in dogs.


Sadness is also an easily observed emotion. There are physiological signs and observational indicators that a dog is sad. It’s well-documented that a dog experiences the pain of loss, for instance when one of their dog friends or human friends dies. Many dogs have been observed going through what can only be described as a depression. Like happiness, sadness has many different sub emotions. And it’s very difficult for a researcher to distinguish exactly which emotion the dog is feeling. And again the dog cannot tell you.