If you're like most pet parents, you consider your dog an intelligent, emotionally advanced creature. When you come home, your pup jumps up to greet you; when you scold him for getting into the trash, he looks shameful, so he has to have feelings, right? In some ways, yes, you're right. But, unlike humans, there are some things dogs simply can't feel. If you're curious what your dog does and doesn't feel, keep reading.
When Dogs Reach Emotional Maturity
Just like humans, dogs need time to grow up and mature emotionally. Think about human babies for a moment. Human babies display something close to excitement, but that's about it. Over the months after their birth, they develop more complex emotions, like disgust, fear, and anger. While dogs mature more quickly than humans do, it still takes quite some time for them to develop the full spectrum of emotions they'll have as adults. Newborn puppies are somewhat limited in their emotional expression, whereas dogs between four to six months of age are capable of displaying all the emotional range they'll ever possess.
What Do Dogs Feel?
While some pet parents swear that their dogs feel anger, shame, and contempt, you might be surprised to learn that, while dogs mimic human emotions in some ways, it's not safe to assume that they feel all the same things we do. Here's a brief overview of the emotions dogs feel:
- Joy: When you walk in the door, your dog is joyful at the sight of you. Dogs also experience joy while playing beloved games like fetch or interacting with other dogs.
- Fear: Dogs experience fear in the presence of danger or due to loud noises like gunshots or thunder.
- Anger: Anyone who has ever seen two dogs fight knows that they are capable of displaying anger just as well as humans.
- Disgust: Some particularly fastidious dogs will carefully step around another dog's droppings out of disgust.
- Love: Dogs love their humans, playmates, and safe, warm homes.
In these ways, dogs and humans experience very similar emotions. There are some human emotions, however, that pups don't feel.
Emotions Dogs Don't Feel
Dogs aren't exactly like humans, and many experts agree that they don't experience more complex emotions, such as the following:
- Guilt: While anyone who has ever come home to a torn-apart trash can and a repentant pup may disagree; experts generally believe that dogs aren't actually capable of experiencing guilt in the way that humans do. Instead, they're probably experiencing something closer to fear of repercussion.
- Pride: It may seem like Fido is exceedingly proud of his new bone, but it's more likely that he is simply just happy.
- Shame: Shame is a complex emotion and much like guilt, dogs aren't capable of feeling it.
While dogs do experience a wide range of emotions, there are some things they simply don't experience like their human companions. Despite this difference in feeling, humans and dogs have managed to get along beautifully for millennia.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian.