Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Do dogs have feelings?

Do dogs have feelings? It's a question most dog owners
have probably wondered at some point. And the logical
answer, if you've ever looked into your dog's sad eyes before
you've left the house to go to work, leaving him alone all
day, is: Of course a dog has feelings!
But whether a dog experiences joy, pain, sadness, jealousy, love and even hate is a topic that's still up for debate.
Aristotle apparently found evidence of emotion in animals. ''Some are good-tempered, sluggish, and little prone to ferocity, as the ox; others are quick-tempered, ferocious, and unteachable, as the wild boar,'' he wrote in
''The History of Animals.''
And Marc Bekoff, of the University of Colorado, wrote a book called ''The Smile of the Dolphin,'' in which researchers explain why they believe ani
mals have emotions.
A study at the University of Vienna, Austria, found that dogs have a sense of fairness and jealousy, as well as a sensitivity that goes beyond reward and punishment factors.
''Animals react to inequity," said Dr. Friederike Range, who
led researchers in testing animals at the school's Clever Dog
Lab. ''To avoid stress, we should try to avoid treating them differently.''
But beyond the myriad studies are our own daily dealings with our dogs, and the seemingly irrefutable fact that dogs experience emotions that
are at least similar -- if not identical -- to humans.
Take Lollipop, my 4-year-old Rottweiler who believes she is my human soulmate. I can look in her eyes and immediately tell if she is happy, sad,
tired, preoccupied, jealous, angry, and even feeling blissfully in love at that moment(yes, with me). It's uncanny. And I can often trace those feelings to previous activities in the day. If I've taken one of my other dogs for a walk and left her home, I get the poutyface, you know the one; if I'm
about to take her to the park for a playdate, her smile is as
wide as her big, square head; if she's sad that I'm leaving for work (without her), she sits quietly resigned at the end of the couch, her eyes droopy and her mouth shut tight (I can almost see the bottom lip sticking out). They are as blatant expressions of feelings as I've ever seen in a human.
The beautiful thing about our dogs and their feelings is
that they're able to let them go. They don't hold grudges, and
they don't play the guilt-trip game (at least not for long). They are
eager to move on to the next emotion, and are often steered to that by our actions. When I arrive home after work, all is forgiven and Lollipop's there
to welcome me with open paws. The wide, goofy grin is
there, and she's always eager to hear about my day (as long as I'm petting her while I talk). It's true love, alright. And if that's not proof of feelings and
emotions, I don't know what is.

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