The dog exhibits mental states, which like us, characterizes his mood and emotions. Anxiety, hysteria, depression, phobia, happiness... are states of mind that the dog will be able to adopt: it is essential for any friend of the dogs to know how to identify them and react to them properly.
The dog, like all living beings sensitive, expresses emotions to communicate one's mood or mental state. We can then define a state of mind as an emotional state, which the animal will tend to express more often. Naturally, this state of mind depends on the temperament of the dog, but also on its experience and the context of life.
The list of the dog's mental states given in this article is not exaustive: the scientists do not agree not always on what's going on in the head of our doggies. Ethology, the science of behavior, is a young science, and today faces different schools of thought that do not always agree among themselves. It is therefore important to understand that the notions developed below are the basic notions , empirical, adapted for behavioral medicine, but likely to evolve rapidly according to our knowledge
The difficulty is that a mental state is the mixture of the dog's mood, with its temperament, which are two criteria of analysis difficult to distinguish from each other when we look at a dog unknown. Hence the importance of always referring to the basic emotions , well defined in ethology, and easy to identify for us.
Suffering in the dog
To define the concept of suffering there are two important concepts to be addressed: pain and discomfort
Pain is an unpleasant sensory and / or emotional experience, caused by actual or potential injury, and provokes a motor reaction of the patient. to escape (definition from the International Association for the Study of Pain, 1979)
Discomfort is a state where the animal must devote a substantial effort to overcome sometimes extreme variations of his environment. Its intensity depends on the opportunity and ability of the animals to cope with this situation.
The suffering will then be an aversive emotional state, consequence of the pain and / or discomfort , when their intensity and duration present a significant degree. The suffering is reached when the situation is no longer tolerable for the animal.
It is therefore very difficult to measure it in a dog, for the same reason as at home: it depends a lot on an individual to the dog. other, with a certain ability to tolerate more or less suffering
Hysteria in the dog
It is a mental state that is characterized by a too intense emotion. It can be joy, anger, fear, frustration, but in any case, it's Excitement that manifests itself, excessively and uncontrollably .
Dogs can naturally become hysterical in the same way as we are: there are causes related to the individual (temperament, experience), and causes related to its environment (context, emotional shock).
For example, a dog that has trouble moderating his emotions when returning from his owners may manifest a hysterical behavior , with great difficulty to return to calm, to keep control of his movements, and groans, involuntary urination...
There may be several causes for these behaviors: on the one hand, poor learning and especially, the management of emotions . The dog then presents a lunatic behavior, varying from one extreme to the other. On the other hand, the dog may manifest a malaise, such as loneliness or lack of activity, by hysterical behaviors. It will therefore be important not to treat all hysteria in the same way.
In 90% of cases, we talk about separation anxiety, with a panel of classic symptoms ( destruction, vocalizations, urination,... in the absence of the owners). In reality, it is not always anxiety, it is more often a lack of activity . The dog shows no fear-related behavior.
A dog can also manifest an "anxious" state. It is an anticipated fear: there is waiting for a stressful event, but it is not present . For example, in the absence of the owner, the dog may be anxious because he is afraid of everything without his owner (even if he is at home where nothing scares him, he will still be anxious)
Fear and anxiety are adaptive, survival-related reactions, they are normal, in the sense that any animal will express them as a predictable response. On the other hand, a dog that expresses too much anxiety, too often, will suffer from this mental state. It will then be necessary to find the reason for its anxiety to correct it.
Anxiety is often contextual : related to individuals, to a given place, or a particular situation. One can play directly on the cause by suppressing it, where to allow the dog to realize learning to support its fear (like to learn loneliness).
The phobia in the dog
The phobia is on the other hand abnormal, it n is neither adaptive nor related to survival. This is a situation where the dog reacts by default, but with too much intensity: he identifies a danger that shocks him, he then undergoes the full whip negative emotions related to it (fear, panic).
then recognizes the phobia as a very strong fear directed against a specific stimulus . This behavior tends to increase with age, it is common that brain aging from 7-8 years begins or amplifies anxiety or phobias.
Among the phobias: thunderstorm (generalization: rain, wind, atmospheric pressure), fireworks, gunshot, noises (urban), men / children, dogs, car / transport.
A repeated anxious state can lead to a phobia, but a trauma violent will have the same effect, much faster! The phobia will be graded according to its importance (from a slight aversion to a total intolerance for the phobic stimulus).
We treat the phobia with what is called desensitization, this process is often long. A drug aid is often prescribed to help the dog concentrate during the first exercises (especially those who go into fear panic directly).
Depression in dogs
The term "depression" Reference to several mental states, slightly different, but characterized by sad behavior . The animal loses its motivation and its joy, and carries out less and less of the behaviors
The most known and the most frequent of the depressive states is the distress acquired . It is the inability to learn an avoidance response to an unpleasant stimulus, when one repeats the stimulus in ways that the animal can not escape. The animal ends up no longer trying to escape the stimulus, and may show signs of anxiety: it is then in acquired distress (also called acquired resignation).
The most obvious example Known is the dog we growl when we discover his stupidity, but too late. The dog reacts to our anger and unfortunately, he does not avoid reprimand, very often. After a while, the dog knows absolutely no more how to welcome us without being scolded. Like he does not associate the reprimand with stupidity but really with our return, he ends then not to party any more, to see hiding: one is in acquired resignation.
This state is serious because even if the object of his stress disappears, as the dog has learned not to react anymore, he may not even realize it.
Happiness in the dog
Difficult to consider happiness as a mental state strictly speaking, but unlike the negative mental states mentioned above, the dog can also naturally manifest a mental state expressing his well-being.
We will recognize the ability to remain emotionally stable , a greater proportion to expressing joy , active behavior , with controlled curiosity for the unknown, as being characteristics of a balanced dog, well in his head, and therefore potentially happy .
Some dogs, with envi too comfortable, can express some frustration, compared to items that should not normally bother him. For example, a dog who eats too much can become capricious on the type of food he ingests. It is therefore necessary, to be happy, to have positive experiences, but also efforts to achieve, in order to enjoy it. For a dog, this amounts to not satisfying all his whims , and being able to give him learning exercises to stimulate him.
First of all, satisfying the needs of the dog is the best recipe for happiness. So first think of giving him enough of your attention (social needs) and long, regular walks (activity needs). A dog who is not frustrated with his basic needs will be able to develop serenely
Dr Stéphane Tardif
Veterinary doctor and editor for AllCreatureAnimalClinic
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