Ask A Vet: Do Dogs Have Emotions?


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Q: Do dogs have emotions?

A: Well, like with humans, happy and sad are existential ideas. Certainly – they can display a wide array of different behaviors which are indicative of emotions, just as we humans do. And like people, no two dogs are the same. Some are bowl half-full, some are bowl half-empty.

A study from Bristol University was able to show that dogs also have an optimistic or pessimistic outlook on life. Professor Mike Mendl and his group were able to demonstrate clearly that dogs with separation related anxiety problem displayed pessimistic judgment whereas the dogs with the optimistic approach had the lowest anxiety scores.

We know emotions effect behavior – a happy dog wags his tail when you get home. A freaked out or frustrated dog will hide, growl or lunge.   

Accurate assessment of emotions is important to assess the health and welfare of our animals. To that end, trainers and behaviorists stress the importance of positive reinforcement training: we want to keep the dog in a happy and relaxed state where a dog performs commands and can feel successful in life.

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