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Dogs and feelings: what emotions do they feel?


Joy, grief, love, anger and fear - no dog owner will doubt that dogs can feel such feelings as humans. But what about social emotions like shame, guilt or contempt that require a complex sense of morality? Knutschi! Dogs can definitely feel love and affection like these two Irish setters - Shutterstock / Reddogs

For a long time, scientists agreed that dogs and other animals have no feelings and only (re) act without feeling anything. One of the reasons was that research in previous centuries was largely funded by the Church, which had a far greater influence then than it does today. It was considered blasphemy to assign emotions and thus a soul to someone other than humans. In the meantime, times have changed and it goes without saying that our beloved four-legged friends also have feelings.

Dogs feel like a two-year-old child

The dog intelligence corresponds roughly to the level of a toddler aged two to three years. The situation is similar with emotions: dogs stay where their children are in the middle of their third year with their intellectual and thus emotional development. Dogs are denied feelings that only develop afterwards. This was described by the psychology professor and dog expert Stanley Coren in "Psychology Today".

However, dogs go through their mental development faster than human children, since they also grow faster overall and age faster than their two-legged companions. With four to six months - depending on the breed of dog - the formation of the emotional palette in the animals is complete. The first feeling that newborn puppies feel is excitement. They either feel calm and balanced, or are excited and nervous. Shortly afterwards negative and positive feelings develop, initially grief and suffering, satisfaction and disgust.

Little puppies feel fear a little later, closely followed by anger and anger. Only then do they begin to feel joy; before that, they only feel satisfaction when their grief - for example through hunger or thirst - has been quenched. Shortly thereafter, they develop the ability to be suspicious, cautious and reserved. Finally, the young dogs learn to feel love and affection; a culmination of her emotional development.

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Dogs are not familiar with complex social emotions such as shame

In young children, however, the development of the palette of feelings continues, it only ends between the fourth and fifth year of life. In the meantime, children gradually become more aware of the complex social rules in interpersonal relationships and develop emotions that are related to these social norms - this is important for us humans so that we can organize our coexistence in a human community. Dogs have different social norms among themselves and do not need people's social feelings.

If human children violate social norms and are scolded, they feel shame at first, and later add guilt in their fourth year of life. If you abide by the rules and are praised for it, you will feel proud. In the fifth year of life, children can also feel contempt, for example if someone else has violated social norms.

Avoid misunderstandings: Do not humanize dog feelings

We humans tend to infer others from us and, for example, humanize dogs. This can lead to misunderstandings that prevent appropriate educational measures from being applied to undesirable behavior. A classic example of this is when you come home and see that your dog has patted in the corner and is looking at you with big eyes or pushing itself against the wall and avoiding eye contact. "He is ashamed because he knows what he has done" or "He feels guilty and has a guilty conscience" are common human interpretations of dog body language.

Dogs do not know guilt, shame and a guilty conscience. Instead, your four-legged friend is scared at this moment because you scold him or because he has noticed that you always get loud when you come home and see a pile of dogs in the corner. Keep in mind that punishing your dog will do no good long after his misconduct has passed. He cannot link your punishment to his deed and only realizes that you are angry and aggressive. It is better to remove the dog droppings without comment and to search for the cause, which is why your dog is not house-trained. This principle also applies to other misconduct, such as aggression, excessive whining and barking or "destructive rage".