When you look into your best friend’s eyes, you are certainly unable to deny that dogs have feelings, are you? In our daily lives, we build a mutual bond of friendship and trust with our furry friends. Each shared moment seems to be evidence that dogs are able to experience various emotions and express them through body language or various vocalizations.
As a tutor, you learn how to interpret our furry’s facial expressions, postures and behaviors to communicate with them, and over time, you are able to quickly identify when your dog is happy, sad, afraid or trying to ask you something. . But does that mean dogs have feelings and reasoning? Or is it the humans who tend to reflect the feelings in dogs, giving them the characteristics and faculties proper to the human being?
In this Animal Expert article, we will explain what science says about whether dogs have feelings about humans, other dogs and animals. Keep reading to discover the emotions and feelings of dogs!
Do animals have feelings?
Advances in science and technology have made it possible to identify that various animals, especially mammals, experience basic emotions similar to those of humans. This is because they have the same brain structures as us, and they process emotions in very deep brain regions that make up the limbic system.
Emotions are understood as a wide range of hormonal and neurochemical responses that are associated with the limbic system of the brain, and which predispose an individual to react in a certain way by perceiving an external stimulus with his senses, interpreting it through neuronal activity . This process of interpretation allows humans and many other species of animals to experience emotions in different ways.
If you look at the animals in your habitat, or your dog at home, you will clearly see that they react very differently to positive emotions like joy and negative emotions like fear. It is also clear that animals are sentient beings who can develop affective bonds with humans and other animals, and experience pain and stress when subjected to a negative environment, abuse or abandonment.
But is this enough to say that animals have feelings? Below we will better explain the difference between emotions and feelings in scientific terms, focusing on the key question of this article, which is whether dogs have feelings.
Dog Feelings: Scientific Explanation
Many people wonder if dogs have feelings or instincts , but the truth is that these are two very different things. Instinct can be defined very briefly and simply as the innate natural motor that drives a living being to respond to various stimuli. It is inherent in the nature of animals, passed down from generation to generation through genes, as an adaptive ability that allows them to survive.
Despite having gone through a long process of domestication, dogs also maintain various instinctive behaviors such as hierarchical instinct (also known as “pack instinct”), hunting instinct, and “habit” of marking territory. But that does not mean that they are unable to feel or experience different emotions. The instinct is an inherent part of canine nature , and the ability to have emotions or feelings is not affected by preservation instinct. Human beings themselves also retain some behaviors associated with the survival instinct, which could be considered as the most basic and fundamental instinct of all species.
So dog has feeling?
Not exactly. Let us go in parts to better understand why the statement that dogs have feelings is so incomplete. As we saw earlier, dogs have emotions (like many other animals) and experience them very similarly to humans. One of the most important studies for this discovery was conducted by Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns , who decided to train several dogs to adapt to the MRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine, which allows them to capture images of brain activity. Why can’t we say dogs have feelings?
Well, because psychology has traditionally differentiated emotions from feelings. As we have seen, emotions consist mainly of neuronal, chemical, and hormonal responses that predispose an individual to act in a certain way in the face of a certain stimulus. For example, joy is an emotion that can make a dog smile in response to its owner’s arrival at home.
In turn, feelings are also associated with the limbic system, but involve conscious assessment as well as a spontaneous predisposition to certain responses. It is not possible to think of feelings as emotions, because they would derive precisely from a conscious and general reflection on emotions, considering mainly the subjective experience of each individual (how each individual lives their own emotions).
Thus, the main problem we have today with stating that animals have feelings (including dogs) is that our knowledge of their cognitive system has not yet allowed us to ascertain whether they make conscious reflections on their own emotions. That is, we have no scientific evidence yet to show that dogs and other animals are able to connect the specific emotions they experience in certain contexts with complex thoughts about this experience.
Let’s say that in order to claim that dogs have feelings beyond emotions, your furry dog would need to reflect on the joy he feels when he sees you coming home, to come to the conclusion that his spontaneous reaction to wagging his tail vigorously or smiling is due to affection he feels for you. But to this day, science and technology have not yet been able to demonstrate this kind of complex and reflective thinking in dogs.
So while we know that animals and dogs have emotions, we cannot yet say with scientific basis that they also have feelings. And also for this reason, dogs are not considered to have feelings of guilt , because to feel guilty, they would need to reflect on something they have done that is considered negative or undesirable in our culture.
How to tell if my dog loves me
Dog bodies also generate oxytocin , better known as the ” love hormone .” Another great observation from Dr. Berns’ research mentioned above is that the most positive neuronal response in all dogs occurred when they noticed the smell of their “favorite human being”stimulating a region of the brain known as the caudate nucleus, which is associated to love both in dogs and in people.
When the dog senses the scent of his guardian, and consequently also of his home, it leads to an increase in oxytocin production and segregation, and is what allows his fur to look happy and excited when he sees you or shares good times with you. you.
In addition, a study by psychologist Andrea Beetz found that dogs and humans experience a very similar increase in oxytocin levels after sharing a cuddling and pampering session of approximately ten minutes. Then both receive the benefits of this interaction, and dogs like humans as much as being in the company of those who do them good.
However, in addition to experiencing occasional arousal or feeling of well-being when they are with their guardians, dogs also have an excellent affective memory , which is also associated with well-developed senses. That’s why a dog can be very happy to meet a person or another dog, even if it’s been months or years since they last saw each other.
Of course, dogs do not express their affection the same way humans do, as dogs’ social behavior and body language are guided by different codes. That’s why your dog is probably not comfortable with a hug, but it does show spontaneous affection, especially through its unconditional loyalty.