It hasn't been that long that we have changed out thinking about dogs and view them as sentient beings. Beings that experience emotions like fear, pain, joy, sadness and even jealousy. It has actually only been a few years since this was clarified. At last check there were 2,500 studies that prove dogs think and feel. I quote some of the people who have done this research, like Dr. Stanley Corin, in my book. What is crucial about this research is that it is time we think about our dogs as capable of experiencing emotions and stop thinking of them as objects that don't have feelings. I remember people saying things like: "It is only a dog. It doesn't care what you do to it." Please notice the use of the term "it" in referring to the dog. When I wrote my book the software I was writing on would correct me every time I referred to dogs as he or she and told me to be grammatically correct I had to refer to them as it or that. I explained this to my editor when I was writing my book and she suggested I put a disclaimer at the from of my book to satisfy the grammatical gurus which I did.
Referring to and thinking of a dog as an object makes it easier to abuse them and neglect them and even "get rid" of them. Seeing them as an object or a thing allows us not to feel responsible for causing them any emotional trauma. This emotional detachment from dogs and other animals helps explain the treatment of many animals in our society.
One of the most powerful things we can do, besides recognizing and respecting our dogs feelings, is to refer to them as sentient beings whenever we talk about them or write about them. Using he and she to refer to them will have an impact. Language can change behavior.
I want to talk about some of the feelings our dogs experience and how we know they are experiencing them.
Happy - we know our dogs are happy when they greet us when we come home. It delights us to know they miss us this much and are so happy to see us. Dogs are happy when they can spend time with us. Their tail wags and they have a smile on their face when we engage them in play and walks and rides in the car. Just being with us makes our dogs very happy and they tell us this with their body language. Their tail is wagging, the smile on their face, their relaxed body language and the happiness in their eyes and their vocal sounds all tell us how happy they are.
Fear - dogs tell us they are frightened by loud noises in many ways. I have a friend who says her dog dives under the bed or other furniture during thunderstorms. Fire works can be difficult for many dogs. Implementing negative training techniques result in a fearful dog. A dogs body can tremble with fear and anxiousness in any situation they feel fearful. Children or adults poking dogs with sticks and throwing rocks at them for fun is cruel and causes dogs fear for their safety. Neglected and abused dogs live in a constant state of fear. Feeling fear is frightening for all sentient beings.
Pain - This is a more difficult emotion to read on our dogs sometimes. Language barriers can be challenging. The more you know your dog the more you will be able to know when things are not right and they may be in pain. Dogs will often go to their pet parent and try to tell them they are experiencing pain by looking at them or even showing them the paw or part of their body they are concerned about. When you get that quizzical look or pleading stare it may be a message from your dog they are in pain. Of course our neglected and abused dogs feel pain often in addition to the fear they live in much if not all the time.
Sadness - Dogs feel sadness in many ways. When my dogs are separated I can tell they feel sad to be away from each other. I know they are sad when I am gone for long periods of time. If you should take something meaningful, like a special toy, away from a dog they can feel sad. Loss is often sadness for our dogs as well. You can tell by the sad look on their face; the sadness in their eyes and the overall lethargy of their body. Dogs also live so in the moment their resilience from sadness to joy is exemplified when we come home and they greet us with their joyful excitement to see us.
Jealousy - Yes, our dogs even feel jealously. When I am petting one of my dogs I immediately have the other one right there demanding the same attention. If one of my dogs gets a treat of course the other one wants one as well. When we do activities together if one has to wait their turn, especially JIve, she will howl and bark to make her displeasure known that Jazz is getting the attention. Dogs are all about being in a relationship with their pet parent. They can feel jealous having to share that relationship on many different levels.
Shame - I peronally am not a fan of the dog shaming posts you see online. When you look into the face and eyes of these dogs wearing shame based signs in the name of human entertainment my heart sinks for the dog. Dogs are sensitive and have feelings. Their sensitivity is one of the things we love about them. We love that they anticipate our feelings and needs. Yet some people find humor in shaming dogs. Being sensitized to the fact that dogs have feelings and feel this shame is important.
Respecting dogs have feelings and respecting the actual feeling the dog is experiencing is crucial to developing trust and a long lasting bond in our relationship with our dogs. Research also indicates dogs think at the level of a 3-5 year old child. The ability to think and feel make our dogs perfect for a relationship with us as humans. the more we recognize, respect and value these qualities in our dogs, the more our communication will improve and our relationship will grow.
Accepting our dogs have feelings allows us to experience empathy for them. Relating to our dogs on an emotional level is awesome!
Woofs & Smiles!