Do Dogs Have Emotions?

happy staffordshire terrier on the beach

Many dog owners have learned to read their dog’s body language. You can tell when your dog is excited or scared. But is there something deeper going on or is it a simple response? Do dogs have emotions?

What Emotions Do Dogs Experience?

Dogs can experience emotions. The limbic system, which controls emotional responses, is very similar in a dog’s brain to a human’s brain. Many scientists accept the fact that dogs do in fact experience emotions.

However, a dog may not be able to experience more complex emotions, much like a child cannot until they grow and mature. A dog often experiences emotions at about the same level a two or three-year-old experiences emotions.

Dogs often experience emotions like happiness, excitement, aggression, love, and anxiety. The more time you spend with your dog, the more you are able to recognize these emotions in your dog. There are ways dogs show love, but there are also signs and body language to be aware of when your dog is anxious or threatened.

Dogs’ emotions are often responses to dopamine, oxytocin, or adrenaline. When you bond with your pup, it releases oxytocin and that is responsible for building a bond between you and your dog. As you build that bond over time, it looks like the love and loyalty that humans share.

The difference between emotions in dogs and in humans is that dogs process their emotions differently than humans. Humans can communicate their emotions verbally, while dogs cannot. They just feel their emotions.

Are There Emotions That Dogs Don’t Feel?

Since dogs often experience emotions like that of a toddler, there are certainly more complex emotions dogs don’t experience. Children don’t process emotions like contempt, pride, guilt, or shame until they’re older. In the same vein, dogs also do not process these emotions.

When you catch your dog doing something naughty, you think you see shame or guilt on their face. But in reality, dogs don’t experience shame or guilt. The look of guilt you think you see may actually be fear.

Over time dogs learn which behaviors make you happy or sad. So when you come home to the trash can turned over and toilet paper strewn everywhere, your dog knows you’re going to be upset.

This doesn’t mean dogs only have a limited range of feelings. It simply means they’re not quite as developed or the same as a fully mature human adult.

How to Recognize Different Emotions in Your Dog

It can be helpful to recognize your dog’s different emotions. Being able to read your dog’s emotions is very similar to reading and identifying the different types of your dog’s body language.

When your dog is happy, they probably will wag their tail, with their mouth hanging open lazily. When a dog is scared, they tend to hide or shy away from you, and their body might shake a little bit. If your dog is feeling playful, they might bring you a toy or bow in front of you, signaling they want to play.

So, do dogs have emotions? The easy answer is yes, but it’s a bit complicated. But the more time you spend with your dog, the better you will be able to understand and read their emotions!