The dog's emotions

Today we can affirm, with certainty, the sensitivity of animals, especially dogs. This sensitivity is visible to us through emotions: knowing how to express how the dog expresses his emotions, and how he reacts to ours, is essential to establish a healthy relationship with his dog!

An emotion is an emotional reaction, enough intense, transient, in response to stimulation of the environment. It is a subjective mental experience , each individual may experience a very different emotion from the others with the same stimulus.

Dogs, like most mammals, experience emotions, but they express them in a very different way from us . It is not uncommon to see pictures taken by dog ​​owners, that the animal expresses negative emotions, without people realizing it. The signs are sometimes subtle effects, as can be seen with this famous photo, which went around the net precisely because it shows our misunderstanding of the emotions of dogs.

On this shot, the dog expresses the evil -being to be caught by the child, there is a danger and this is not the time to take a picture!

We will therefore describe one by one the main emotions (joy , sadness, fear, disgust, anger and surprise), and what are the tools (postures, mimicry, vocalizations) of the dog to express them.

Joy in the dog

In a dog world, joy is an essential emotion. It is indeed a characteristic of social species: to form and maintain welded groups, it is necessary to be able to provide for the needs of its members. And to know them, it is necessary that each individual expresses the satisfaction or not of his needs: the joy thus serves to inform all the group of his motivation and his wellbeing . It is a pleasant emotion to see (so it is "contagious"), it is stimulating for other individuals, while promoting positive interactions.

The dog is renowned for his effusive joy demonstrations , and it is sometimes even excessive, when he finds his owner for example. A dog isolated too long will accumulate frustration, and the return of his family is the moment to release everything: the dog has a hard time to calm down, with sometimes small accidents (the "piss of joys", or a big dog a little brutal, etc...)

In general, it describes itself by a posture turned forwards , tail swinging (sometimes even the whole hindquarters) ). The posture of call to play also manifests joy and excitement. These postures and mimicry are often associated with vocalizations , which can vary completely. Plain groans with muffled grunts, if they are emitted in a game context with the postures described above, most likely correspond to the way your dog expresses joy.

We see it very well on the sequence below: the two dogs seem to attack, and this is not the case however (they could easily bypass the door...); the interaction they have, in spite of appearances, is nothing more than play, and the vocalizations express the joy of being able to carry out one's favorite activity (here, barking through the portal; play, but that's another debate.)

So joy is a desirable emotion , quite intuitively, but you have to recognize the excesses, and answer them: if your dog has moments of joy too intense, it is necessary to seek to know if its fundamental needs are satisfied.

The sadness in the dog

Emotion often opposed to the joy, the sadness is a way to manifest a malaise , a distress . It is obviously an emotion to be watched, to be able to answer it and to bring what is missing to the dog.

It has been observed that the opposite emotions have a lateralized expression : the positive emotions cause beats of tail predominantly to the right ( Quaranta et al., 2007 ), as well as left eyebrow movements ( Nagasawa et al., 2013 ), and the opposite is true for emotions

Difficult for us to measure the tail swing gap between left and right at a glance, but other more obvious signs help us: a curled up posture , with glancing , down, and low tail, are signs of sadness.

The dog may manifest behavioral pathologies such as depression or resignation acquired , his behavior will then tend to express this emotion in the majority against stimuli that should motivate

Disgust in the dog

Disgust is an emotion essential to any animal for its food. It is an emotion that causes an aversion to the object that provokes it , so it is very related to smell and taste, in the dog.

This allows the animal to recognize the foods that go into their diet, but it also allows them to spot stale food , unfit for consumption.

It can not be said that the dog is easy to disgust because it has a diet called "opportunistic carnivore", which means that he does not hesitate to feed on a carrion, or via the excrement of other species. But even if he likes flavors that we can not bear, he also has dislikes: perfume scents , or citrus , very bitter, are often fragrances that will cause disgust in the dog

Fear in the dog

This is probably the most important emotion to recognize in his dog, because this emotion activates the whole body and memory: events taking place in a context of fear are extremely important , and knowing how to reassure your dog is not easy

The fear is essential to any animal to perceive a danger The brain prioritizes this emotion on the others , because in the face of danger, all the attention of the animal must be mobilized on the answer to have (usually flight or aggression). Panic is an intense fear, often provoking such an intense response.
Fear is communicative: feeling fear in others increases one's own anxiety. In addition, the dog is very empathetic and absorbs the emotions of the group he accompanies, he will be very careful to monitor the stress and fear of its owner, with a tendency to imitate .

A scared dog has a curled up posture , see lying down, with the tail tucked on the belly , and sometimes the rear undercarriage . The ears are falling , the head often diverted and fleeting . The dog pantates very often also when he is a little anxious

This is what must be understood to best meet his dog in case of fear: start by reassuring oneself itself , and having the most neutral attitude possible is often the best solution. Wanting to reassure your dog often results in a very protective behavior, and this unusual attitude reinforces the fear of the dog.

Surprise in the dog

Surprise is a fleeting emotion, and marks the moment when a individual discovers a new stimulus (an object, a person, a sound, an odor...). It can be related to the novelty and originality of the discovery, or to its brutal nature, the dog has not anticipated the stimulus.

The surprise is an emotion that can have a positive or negative outlet , depending on the context. A surprise that causes a reaction of fear is to be avoided, but a surprise that immediately brings joy causes the same effect on the dog as a gift at home! It is quite possible to surprise a dog by playing hide and seek, for example, it provokes behavioral reactions very close to very young children (in general, vocalizations and stampings of joy and excitement).

Anger in the dog

Anger is naturally an emotion that the dog can express. Like joy or sadness, anger is a necessary tool in a group to promote balance. It allows individuals to demonstrate malaise, but also resolve conflicts without the need for a fight.

It is very important to know to distinguish this emotion in the dog, so as not to confuse it with a joy borrowed from much excitement. Many dogs bark or growl to attract the attention of other dogs. The limit is clearly not clear: in the same way that a chahutage between children can end in open conflict, two dogs who play in a lively way can get upset and end up actually expressing anger

But dogs know better than to tell us the difference, and other dogs usually respond to anger by so-called appeasement : licking chins, lying on their backs,... these behaviors effectively reduce anger, so it is an answer that the dog takes automatically, without necessarily knowing why he undergoes this anger.

Grudge and revenge are not notions that the dog masters , it involves too much complex cognition. It is not uncommon for owners to interpret some of the dog's negative behaviors as a rancor (with the frequent question, "Is he angry at me?"), But the dog is not Machiavellian enough : he expresses the emotion when he feels it. If the context changes and improves, anger quickly disappears

Dr Stéphane Tardif
Veterinary doctor and editor for AllCreatureAnimalClinic

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