white dog laying on bed looking up and to the left

Stop Assuming Your Dog Feels Things The Way You Do: Understanding Your Dog’s Emotions Makes Communication Easier

Humans Have A Wide Range Of Emotions. What About Dogs?

In a lot of ways, dogs are simple creatures. They like when things are clear (not too much gray area, please!) and they have simple wants and needs. They certainly aren’t as emotionally complex as humans but dogs definitely do feel emotions. 

Their simplicity is part of their charm. Dogs lack ego. This is what allows them to love so unconditionally! They aren’t burdened by all of the expectations we humans put on ourselves and others. Psychology labels this type of thinking as a “should” statement. For example, your spouse believes you “should” have been home hours ago and is miffed when you get home. Meanwhile, your dog simply waited patiently for your return and thinks “Yay! Human is home!” 

A dog’s lack of ego is also what prevents him from feeling things the way people do. So, while dogs feel things like love, happiness, grief, anxiety and excitement they don’t experience emotions like jealousy and anger — at least not in the way you do.  You might assume your dogs are responding to life in the same way people do and this assumption can lead to problems with your relationship and your training efforts. (You know what they say about making assumptions, right?) 

Learning How To Understand Your Dog’s Emotions

Taking the time to learn about a dog’s emotional range and how they express those emotions is going to make life so much better! Communication is key for a successful human-canine relationship. Part of learning how to speak dog is learning how to interpret your pooch’s body language. Even the most vocal dogs rely on looks, postures, movement and behaviours to show you how they are feeling and what they need. 

Of course, every dog is different and has his or her own “tells” but, in general, the following physical cues will tell you what most dogs are feeling.

Dogs Can Pick Up On Your Emotions, Too. 

Dogs have evolved alongside humans for a very long time and have adapted to our world and ways remarkably well. So well, in fact, that they have learned how to pick up on our emotional cues through body language, facial expressions and tone

Being aware of this fact is important because how you express your emotions affects your dog — and your training.

When You Transfer Human Emotions On Your Dog Things Get Confusing.

When you attach human emotions to your dog you in turn, begin to see and treat your canine companion less as the dog he or she is and more as a human. This leads to a breakdown in communication. Let’s look at an example. 

An Example Of Bad Idea, Good Idea. 

You start a new job and are now out of the home for longer hours each day. When you are home, your dog is loving and playful and seems fine — if a little needy. What you don’t see is that when you leave, your dog is anxious and stressed. So anxious, in fact, that one day he poops on your bed. 

Bad Idea: You Assume Your Dog Is Motivated By Human Emotions

You are rightfully grossed out (yuck!) but because you are viewing your dog as having human emotions, you decide he was being spiteful or passive-aggressive. You think, “He was mad at me for not being around to play so he pooped on my bed! What a jerk.” This causes you to be frustrated and maybe a little cool with your dog which in turn creates more instability and makes your dog even more anxious and nervous! (I see more poop in your future.) 

Good Idea: You See Your Dog’s Behaviour For What It Is — Stress. 

You are rightfully grossed out (yuck!) and you stop to think. You interpret the behaviour for what it was (ie. a sign of stress and anxiety) and think, “Poor guy. He must be really stressed to do this. I better be more present with him while I’m home to reassure him and establish a good new routine.”  You behave with calm and confidence, showing your dog that all is well and you are still his fearless (and loving) leader.  Your dog, sensing that you are still confident and in charge, decides things are going to be fine and rallies to the new routine more easily — and with less pooping! 

Keep It Simple And Treat Your Dog Like A Dog.

Remember, dogs have emotions but they are much less complex than yours. This means their emotional range is less varied than yours. It also means that they don’t understand all the ins and outs of your very complicated human emotions. Dogs like for things to be clear and consistent so they know what to expect. When you view a dog as having human emotions you overcomplicate things (bye-bye black and white and hello grayscale) which can lead to a communication breakdown. Keep things simple. Understand your dog for the wonderful beasty that they are. Treat your dog like a dog and communication will be much simpler which will make building a loving, respectful and responsive relationship so much easier.

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