Love, shame, fear. What emotions can dogs experience?

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Dogs have a set of emotions in a two-year-old who can feel love, joy, or anger but have difficulty understanding the meaning of complex social experiences.

Love, shame, fear. What emotions can dogs experience?


It is hard to believe, but the very fact that dogs have the ability to experience emotions to this day in some scientific circles is the subject of heated debate. Yes, yes, no mistake: we are talking about our contemporaries, and not about medieval scientists forced to agree with the clergy, who argued that a dog is just a soulless golem, devoid of a divine spark and incapable of true feelings.

Even in the distant past, when people endowed everything with a soul, dogs in many cultures were considered special animals. Dogs were revered, worshiped, believing that they have a rich mental life, and they certainly experience feelings very similar to human ones. No wonder in Egypt the dog was the personification of the god Anubis, the Maya used them as predictors, and the ancient Germans relied on dogs as guides to the afterlife.

The situation began to change dramatically with the development of science. People learned about the principles of physics and mechanics, learned to build complex machines, and at the same time began to notice that all living things are very similar to some kind of systems controlled by mechanical and chemical processes. The church, frightened by the consequences of such discoveries, was forced to say its weighty word. The priests said that a person has something more than just mechanics or chemistry - a soul, and that means only people have consciousness and are capable of feelings.

Bone chassis with dog-shaped cover


Since most of the research at that time was funded by the church, one can understand the motives of Rene Descartes, a French scientist, and philosopher who repeatedly expressed the idea in his writings that animals such as dogs are just some kind of machine. In his opinion, my Akita is just "a bone chassis with a cover in the shape of a dog, filled with the biological equivalent of gears and pulleys, not possessing consciousness and emotions, but capable of being programmed for certain actions."

Love, shame, fear. What emotions can dogs experience?

“I think, therefore I am” is one of the most famous statements of Rene Descartes, the French scientist, philosopher, and theologian.

Perhaps he understood the fallacy of such a view, but to affirm something that was at odds with the opinion of the clergy then meant literally shooting himself in the foot, that is, depriving himself of his livelihood. But what is forgivable to Descartes is already unforgivable to us: since the Middle Ages, science has advanced very far, and now we know for sure that the brain of dogs contains the same structures that cause emotions in humans.

The endocrine system of dogs secretes hormones similar to ours, and their bodies, experiencing emotions, undergo the same chemical changes as humans. Dogs even have the hormone oxytocin, which in humans is linked to feelings of love and affection for others. Given this similarity in neuroscience and chemistry, it seems reasonable to assume that dogs have human-like emotions, and the question is whether all or not all, that is, how similar are the emotional ranges of dogs and humans.

Two to five

Many are sure that the set of emotions familiar to an adult is given to him from birth. This is not true. Research shows that infants and young children have a very limited emotional range. Gradually, the child's emotions are differentiated, and as they grow up, children become able to experience different, more complex emotional states.

Love, shame, fear. What emotions can dogs experience?


The ability to experience complex emotions is gradually formed in a child. This process takes several years and is fully completed by the beginning of school.

Immediately after birth, a baby has only one emotion, which can, with a certain stretch, be called excitement. It only indicates how excited the child is, covering the entire spectrum from calm to complete trash. During the first weeks of life, the state of arousal takes on a positive or negative connotation, and by about the end of the first month, an expression of general satisfaction or suffering can be seen on the baby's face.

Over the next two to three months, the child begins to show disgust, fear, and anger. The ability to experience real joy most often occurs closer to six months, followed by the appearance of shyness and suspicion. True attachment, which it makes sense to call "love," is only fully developed at the age of nine to ten months.

Complex social emotions appear in a child much later. Children begin to feel shame and pride only by the age of three, and the feeling of guilt comes about six months after them. A child must be four years old before he feels contempt.

Knowing the sequence of development of emotions in a child gives us the key to understanding the emotions of dogs. Puppies go through all stages of development much faster than humans, fully completing the formation of their emotional spectrum already between the fourth and sixth months of life. However, psychologists are sure that the range of emotions experienced by a dog will not exceed that available to a person at the age of about two or a maximum of two and a half years.

This means that from as early as six months, your dog is able to experience all the basic emotions: joy, fear, anger, disgust, and even love. However, based on recent research, it seems unlikely to suggest that she has complex emotions such as guilt, pride, or even more shame.

But what about the guilty eyes?

I have no doubt that many will immediately begin to object, they say, dogs are capable of feeling guilt, and they saw strong evidence of this with their own eyes. A common thing: a person comes home, and his dog hides under the sofa or goes out to meet him, tucking his tail and bent over in three deaths. All clear. The owner goes to the kitchen and finds there a pile or, for example, a torn garbage bag. What is this if not guilt?

Love, shame, fear. What emotions can dogs experience?


In such a situation, many argue: the dog understands that it is naughty, and quite accurately shows the experiences associated with feelings of guilt.

Well, then imagine that you literally left the room for a few minutes, leaving the dog sitting near the coffee table, where, for example, there is a full plate of fragrant dumplings. The plate is right in front of her nose, the dog has the opportunity to eat dumplings, however, you strictly forbade touching the food on the table, and do not doubt that, when you come back, you will find everything as it was.

Unfortunately, barely entering the room, you see that half of the dumplings are missing. Who ate it? A dog or a son who just came running from school hungry? If it is true that a dog can feel guilt, then it will not be difficult to find out. Despite the apparent simplicity of the problem, it turns out that it is almost impossible to determine only by the behavior of the dog whether it is to blame for the loss of lunch.

When scientists ran a similar experiment in a laboratory setting, they found that dogs' reactions to the anger of a significant person did not depend on whether they actually ate the treat or whether it was hidden by those who controlled the experience. If the owner began to swear, all dogs, regardless of the fairness of the "accusations", showed a typical "guilty" look. They lowered their heads, avoided looking a person in the face, raised their paws, pulled their ears back to the neck as a sign of submission, and pinched their tail between their legs.

In no case has a dog owner been able to pinpoint whether his dog is actually "to blame" or not.

Psychologist Stanley Coren comments on the actions of dogs: “What is happening is an expression of a much more fundamental emotion - fear. The dog knows that when you show up and see, for example, spoiled things or stool on the floor, unpleasant things happen to him. Her behavior is guided by the fear of punishment, and the suppressed look is just an attempt to prevent aggression on the part of a person, but in no case is it an admission of guilt or shame. "

For many, this will be bad news. How about a good one? Yes, please. You can safely dress up your dog in a silly pumpkin costume for Halloween and it won't be ashamed, no matter how ridiculous it looks. She also won’t be arrogant with pride by winning the best at a show or passing a difficult search exam. However, there is no doubt that the dog is able to experience sincere love and incredible satisfaction when a loved one is around. Aren't these the very emotions that we value most in our communication with her?

Love your dogs.

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