8 Studies That Answer Whether or Not Dogs Have Feelings
Do you think dogs have feelings? Most of us dog owners believe they do, yet we haven’t had much scientific proof to back it up. But that’s changing.
Canine cognitive science has come a long way over the past decade, and we can now prove dogs do have feelings. Not just simple feelings either; they display complex emotions such as jealousy and it’s quite possible that they have their own moral code. Researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding how complex their feelings really are.
Do Dogs Have Feelings? The Proof Is in the Science
Do dogs have feelings? Scientific studies are not only proving that dogs do have feelings, they’re finding that canine emotions are more complex than we thought. Lawmakers are also taking notice and giving dogs the status of a sentient being. Earlier this year France declared dogs are no longer just considered personal property; they’re now afforded rights as living beings.
No one has ever tortured a clock. Animals suffer, they have emotions and feelings. It is not a question of making animals subjects of the law…but simply of protecting them against certain forms of cruelty. – Luc Ferry; former education minister
Owners Have Known About Dog Emotions For Years
Does your dog have a wide variety of emotions? Most dog owners would say yes. Does he ponder the meaning of life? Probably not, but science is helping us get closer to understanding canine emotions and they might not be as simple as we once thought.
We’ve often compared dogs to being as mentally complex as a 2 year old child. We know that they’re adept at understanding our body language and voices better than any other creature but how much do we know about their signals to us?
Dogs are the only non-primate animal to look people in the eyes. After studies on the domestication of wolves researchers were expecting to find eye contact as a shared trait. It’s a unique behavior between humans and dogs. Dogs seek out eye contact from humans but not from their own parents.
Bonding with owners is much more important for dogs than other pets. – Attila Andics
All dog owners have a lot of anecdotal evidence of their own dogs emotions but it’s still quite misunderstood by science. Amazingly enough over the past few years some very diligent researchers have been able to train dogs to sit still in M.R.I. scanners to get a better understanding of what’s actually going on inside Fido’s mind.
The dogs are not sedated, that wouldn’t prove very useful when testing for cognitive behaviors, the dogs are sitting still voluntarily. This new line of research will provide us with a much better understanding of what dogs are and are not capable of feeling emotionally.
Dog Emotions Are Complex & Often Misunderstood
We’re now discovering that we share a lot of the same brain functionality as mans best friend. It helps to explain why we have been able to form such a close bond with them and why they seem to understand a lot of our emotional cues. We know that dogs feel joy, happiness, fear, and stress but we don’t know a lot about other dog emotions.
Now researchers are able to dive deeper into the study of dog neuroscience and they’re beginning to see how similar and we are to our canine companion when it comes to emotions.
So yes; dogs do have feelings. Not only that – their feelings are much more complex than we previously thought. The next time someone asks “Do dogs have feelings?” cite these eight scientific studies that prove that yes, dogs do have feelings.
1. Study Finds Dogs Feel Love & Attachment
In October of 2013 there was an article called Dogs Are People, Too published in the New York Times. Researchers trained 12 dogs to enter M.R.I. scanners to have their brains analyzed while they were introduced to certain signals. Hand signals indicating food would stimulate the caudate nucleus, the region of the brain associated with anticipation of things we enjoy.
The caudate in dogs also increased activity when the smell of a familiar person was introduced or upon the dogs owner reentering the room. Many of the same things that activate the human caudate act the same way in canines. The caudate is so predictable in humans it can predict preferences in food. Scientists refer to this similarity between human and canine brain activity a functional homology.
2. Dogs Read Out Moods With Voice Detection
Earlier this year researchers released a study that found dogs read our moods by deciphering voices in a little part of their brain. 11 dogs were trained to sit inside M.R.I. scanners for 10 minutes while they listened to 200 dog, people, and environmental noises. Just as with humans the dogs were found to have a small set of neurons that lit up strongest when they heard the voice of their own species.
They also found that humans and dogs process emotional noise data the same way. The primary auditory cortex was activated more when a happy sample was played more than a sad sound in both species. The study suggests that both humans and dogs this part of the brain is adept at understanding the different subtleties in voice tones.
“Like people, dogs use simple acoustic parameters to extract out the feelings from a sound,” Andics says. “For instance, when you laugh, ‘Ha ha ha,’ it has short, quick pieces. But if you make the pieces longer, ‘Haaaa, haaaa, haaaa,’ it starts to sound like crying or whining. This is what people — and dogs — pay attention to.” -Attila Andics; MTA-ELTE
3. Dogs Can Recognize Generosity & Act Accordingly
In 2017 a study was published on dogs being able to recognize selfish vs. generous behavior. Researchers in this study observed as the dog would sit leashed by his owner in a room with two other strangers. The strangers were both given a bowl of smelly food which contained sausage and cereal. A third person would enter the room, acting as a beggar, she would go up to the first stranger asking for some food. He would say “NO” in a loud stern voice and shoo her away with his arm.
This first person would then went to the other person for food. This second stranger would say OK in a nice sounding voice and place a bit of food in the beggars mouth. The beggar would then leave the room and after a few minuted the dogs owner would untie their canine and let him do as he chooses. Over two thirds of the time the dog would go right up to the nicer stranger who shared their food with the beggar.
4. Research Suggests Dogs Feel Empathy
In June of 2012 there was a study released on empathy in dogs. 18 dogs varying in age and breed were exposed to four separate 20 second conditions where the dogs owner or a stranger hummed, spoke in a casual manner, or pretended to cry. None of the dogs responded to the humans who were just talking and a few responded to the humming.
Most of the dogs approached and touched the human as they were pretending to cry. The study found that the dogs approaching the humans who were crying did so in a submissive manner consistent with empathic concern. No preference was found in regards to which person the dog approached, the stranger or the owner. The study concluded that they were responding to the emotion, not their own needs.
The dogs approached whoever was crying regardless of their identity. Thus they were responding to the person’s emotion, not their own needs, which is suggestive of empathic-like comfort-offering behavior.” -Jennifer Mayor; University of London
5. Do Dogs Feel Guilt & Shame?
Scientists said earlier this year that dog’s do not feel shame or guilt. We all know the look, ears back and head cowered. A researcher at Barnard College in New York City videotaped 14 dogs in a series of trials to gauge their reaction when their owner left the room after telling them not to eat a treat.
When owners returned they found that regardless of whether the dog ate the treat or not the dogs responded in the same way when their owner scolded them. It wasn’t guilt that prompted the look but a direct reaction to the scolding from their owner. The researcher said she doesn’t necessarily know that dog’s can’t feel guilt, just that the ‘guilty look’ isn’t an indication of it.
6. Dogs Exhibit Jealousy & Envy
In 2008 scientists at the University of Vienna, Austria tested 43 dogs to see if they found evidence of jealousy or envy. The dogs were all trained to shake paws so the researchers would ask each of them to shake. All of the dogs were performing well until they noticed that some of the other dogs were being rewarded more handsomely with treats.
The dogs who did not receive a treat for their paw started performing much worse, only obeying 13 out of 30 times. They were also exhibiting stress behaviors such as licking or scratching themselves. They were showing unhappiness at the unfair situation.
“The fate of a wolf or coyote pack can really hang on whether an individual pulls its weight, these animals learn not to tolerate unfairness.” – Marc Bekoff; University of Colorado
7. Research Has Found That Dogs Can Laugh
Apparently dogs do laugh. The sound of a dog laugh is somewhat like a pant to the human ear. Patricia Simonet studied dogs’ reponses while she played back an audio recording of another dog laughing.
When the dogs heard the sound and were tested individually they would go and pick up a toy and do the playbow pose. She tested the same dogs on growls, whines, and barks. When puppies heard the growling they would pee on the floor. She also found that playing the dog laugh to a stressed out dog could calm him down rather than exciting him.
8. Dogs Can Be Optimists/Pessimists
Research found that some dogs who exhibit separation anxiety might be affected by negative emotional states like pessimism. The study was conducted at the UK’s Bristol University. 24 dogs who had recently entered an animal shelter were studied. They would first teach each of the dogs for separation anxiety by placing the animal inside of a room alone for 20 minutes.
The next day they would repeat this behavior and record the dogs behavior. The ones who had separation anxiety would bark, scratch at the door, and jump on furniture. These same 24 dogs were also given food bowls in specific areas of a room, on one side they could always expect it to be full, and on the other it would be empty. This was repeated until the dogs knew what to expect.
The researchers then started placing additional bowls in ambiguous places in the room. The dogs that immediately ran to the new food bowl were considered optimistic and the dogs who didn’t approach the new bowl were the pessimistic ones. The dogs who were pessimists when it came to the food bowl were the ones who expressed more separation anxiety behaviors.
Here’s a similar study that was conducted earlier this year at the University of Sydney:
Dogs Really Are Mans Best Friend
We often wonder why we feel so close to our dogs, why there seems to be some sort of mutual understanding. It’s a relationship that has been ongoing for thousands of years.
The relationship has always been mutually beneficial; they protect us and help us hunt while we provide them with food and shelter. Perhaps working side by side with the canine for so long has taught us how to communicate with one another in a way we have yet to fully understand.
I think we can all agree that the studies show that dogs do in fact love us – maybe more than we ever expected.
So what do you say when someone asks you if dogs have feelings? I find it a bit hard to believe that anyone whose owned a dog would say no. I often wondered if I was over estimating my dogs emotional intelligence, but now I think we’ve just begun to understand how emotionally complex they really are.