February 12, 2018
by LG Nixon
We love our pets, and they seem to love us in return. Still, people often wonder if animals experience emotions similar to humans. For those of us who have pets, we tend to roll our eyes and say, “Well, duh!”
I have been blessed to share my life with several Boxer dogs over the years, and I can tell you not one has had the same, or even a similar personality. Each one was an individual who could express their wants and needs without any help from me. Modern scientists will tell you that your dog has an emotional range similar to a two-and-a half-year old child. Those emotions may include excitement, distress/fear, contentment, anger, joy, love/affection, even suspicion or shyness. A well written reference article, Which Emotions Do Dogs Actually Experience, at moderndogmagazine.com will give you the clinical understanding of dog emotions.
As a pet owner, I have noticed different emotions that don’t correlate with modern science such as pride, guilt, even embarrassment which science says is beyond an animal’s capability. Could it be that I am projecting my own emotions onto the animal? Possibly, but I don’t think so. While I am not a scientist or a psychologist, I do know my pets. Here are a few personal observations that give me pause:
Bruno, who was adopted from an alcoholic and abusive situation, clearly did not like the smell of alcohol. It made him angry and defensive, and he would growl to warn you not to approach, and don’t even think about touching his human. Clearly, he had a long memory, too.
Chamois was raised from a puppy, but when I left her briefly in a motel room, I returned to find her very sad and laying with her head in a puddle of water. Her wet eyelashes, and the whimpers indicated she was crying, feeling abandoned and alone in an unfamiliar place.
Molly was an old soul. At the nursing home, she would put her head in a patient’s lap to allow them to pet her, and then she would give them sloppy kisses. She visited each person in the same manner until she had greeted everyone. Molly was never trained as a therapy dog, yet she felt empathy for these people. Mindy, and her brother Morgan, had been together since puppyhood. Morgan was a lover who gave unsolicited hugs by wrapping his front legs around your waist and laying his head against you. After Morgan passed from cancer, Mindy would crawl into his bed at night and lay whimpering. She was grieving the loss of her brother and playmate.
Tebow, adopted from a shelter, had been neglected and tied to a tree. He never had a toy and didn’t know how to play. Yet he became a happy contented soul, squeaking his toys or falling asleep in your lap with a ball in his mouth. Tebow gave us the sloppiest kisses and he even learned to hug. He loved and trusted us.
Pan, a Russian Blue Lynx cat, was adopted through a local Humane Society. He wiggled his paw through the cage bars, and then snuggled on my shoulder with an arm wrapped around my neck when I held him. The employees said he usually preferred not to be held at all. Now, I call him a Cuppy — a cat who thinks he’s a puppy dog. He follows me everywhere, plays fetch, hide-and-seek, greets visitors, and he comes when he is called. Pan was very angry with me once when I brought a stray cat home briefly. He stared at me, stalked over and growled several times, then turned his back, ears flat, and ignored me for two days. He’s definitely a control freak.
Animals are living, breathing creations that we should not discount as dumb animals merely because they don’t speak our language. If you pay close attention, they will convey far more intelligence than they are given credit for.
In his article Inside the Minds of Animals at time.com, journalist Jeffrey Kluger discusses having met with Kanzi, a thirty-seven year old bonobo, a cousin to the chimpanzee, and his trainers. Using place-mat like sheets with symbols, Kanzi is capable of constructing thoughts and sentences, and he understands the conceptual differences between from and later, and grammatical tenses such as -ing or -ed. You can find the article in the science category, or published in the August 2010 issue. You can search for Kanzi at wikipedia.org.
A recent article in ScientificAmerican.com offers evidence that many animals can think abstractly, even problem solve. PsychologyToday.com and petMD.com both agree that dogs can see colors and can distinguish between colors if asked to retrieve a certain color ball.
In their article, What Emotions Do Dogs Feel, the team at Petcentric.com discusses canine feelings and uses photos corresponding with the emotion. Be sure to check out the surprised look on a Boxer dog. It’s hilarious, and yes, I have seen that expression before.
Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, at vetstreet.com (March/2015) discusses the ways your dog shows his love. The article explains a dog’s use of sight, sound and smell when interacting with its human, and by using wagging tails, sloppy kisses, snuggling, eye contact, and positive responses to our scent and the sound of our voice, the pet is saying, “I love you, woof!”
Dr. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist and author of the book How Dogs Love Us (2013), scanned the brains of dogs trained to lay quietly in an MRI machine. He discovered the dogs reacted only to the smell of people they knew. Their brain patterns were homogeneous to those patterns observed in humans who were shown pictures of people they love.
So, we have established that our pets can think abstractly, can exhibit and share their emotions with us, they see in color, and their brain patterns are very similar to ours. In other words, they think, feel and see us clearly, yet they are happy to be around us and be a part of our family.
Yeah, they definitely love us.