Many people have experienced behavior in their dogs that leads the owner to believe that dogs are capable of feeling emotions similar to those felt by humans.
Not only do dogs appear to experience a wide range of emotions, studies show that dogs recognize emotions in other dogs and in humans.
The results of a study by a team of animal behaviour experts and psychologists from the University of Lincoln, UK, and University of Sao Paulo, Brazil led the researchers to believe that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and in other dogs and can discriminate between positive and negative emotions in both humans and dogs (Albuquerque, et al., 2015).\
In another study, researchers from the University of Mexico studied how dogs pay close attention to human faces to guide their behavior (for example, by recognizing their owner and his/her emotional state using visual cues). They trained dogs to stay still and awake inside an MRI scanner and showed the dogs pictures of human faces with different expressions along with pictures of inanimate objects.
They found that when the dogs looked at the facial expressions, the same areas of the brain were triggered in dogs as in humans in terms of reading and understanding facial cues (Cuaya, Hernández-Pérez, & Concha, 2016).
An earlier Hungarian study also using MRI also showed similarities in how dogs and humans process emotions. (Andics, Gacsi, Farago, Kis, & Miklosi, 2014)
A 2014 study on jealousy in dogs found that, when owners gave attention and affection to another person or animal, dogs seemed to engage in attention seeking behavior like pushing between the owner and the rival and or vocalizing (Harris & Provoust, 2014).
The idea that dogs are capable of jealousy relates to the newer research on animal social cognition that reveals that dogs have sophisticated social-cognitive abilities (Harris & Provoust, 2014) and have been shown to use social cues better than chimpanzees, who until now have been generally thought to be the animals most like humans in their social abilities.
Dogs have been shown to have symptoms similar to people suffering from clinical depression, anxiety and neurosis. Service dogs who were retired from the US military when they could no longer carry out missions have been found to suffer from a condition now referred to as Canine Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). After having suffered at least one traumatic event may exhibit distress and a number of behavioral problems similar to their human military counterparts. (Cheney, 2012)
Recognizing that a dog’s emotional state may impact learning and that a dog’s body language reflects their emotions, researchers evaluated the posture of dogs while learning through operant conditioning and concluded that dog’s body language during operant conditioning was related to their success rate during training.
These researchers found that dogs who displayed behaviors such as wide-eyes, closed mouth, erect ears, and forward and high tail carriage, without wagging or with short and quick wagging, related to high achievement results. The findings suggest that certain postures were related to the dog’s learning level during operant conditioning and that being aware of these postures could be helpful in understanding canine emotion during learning. (Hasegawa, Ohtani, & Ohta, 2014)
Jane Bowers, B.A., CABC, CPDT-KA
Jane Bowers has been training dogs for over two decades. She teaches people to train their dogs in group and private training courses and has a keen interest in assisting dogs with behavioral issues. Her company is Dogs of Distinction Canine Training Inc.Jane has a monthly newspaper column on dog related topics and is a former host of a live call in TV show on animals. She is a strong advocate for force free and humane training methods for all animals.
Jane has a degree in psychology and is certified as a dog trainer through the Certification Council of Professional Pet Dog Trainers and as a behaviour consultant through the International Association of Behavior Consultants and through the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. These organizations require a minimum number of continuing education units be obtained to retain certification. She is also a professional member of The Pet Professional Guild, an organization committed to force free training of animals and the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. a professional organization of individual trainers who are committed to being better trainers through education.
Jane is the content creator of the online course Assessing and Interpreting Dog Behaviour, which is a course for law enforcement personnel who meet unfamiliar dogs in the course of their duties. She is the author of Perfect Puppy Parenting, a guide to raising a happy, confident, well-behaved dog.
Jane spent 17 years working for Customs Border Services and in joint teams with US Homeland Security and the RCMP. She spent a further 8 years working as an Animal Control Officer and Bylaw Enforcement Officer.
Jane lives on a small farm with dogs, sheep, donkeys, and chickens. The dogs each came from situations that prevented them from living in their original homes. The dogs range in size and age and with the dog training and behavioral work, whether it’s participating in the development of an online training course, working with a client’s dog or tracking a lost pet or animal.