Animal Behaviorists Say Animals Feel the Same Emotions We Do

by Lauren Glassberg of the ABCNEWS station WABC-TV in New York

Nov. 8, 2003 New York City, New York

Animal Behaviorists Say Animals Feel the Same Emotions We Do

How can you tell what your pet is feeling? Many pet owners say they
know when their dog is happy and their cat is sad.

Marilyn Brisken is sure her beloved Dewy has emotions, but are emotions
really possible for a pooch?

"He can be happy, he can be sad, he can be angry as hell," she told WABC-TV
in New York. "He does a terrific angry."

While it's natural for human companions to anthropomorphize their pets,
researchers say the idea of pets having emotions may not be as strange as it
sounds. "A few years ago if you asked a scientist to discuss animal emotions they
might laugh at you," said Robert Defranco, director of the Animal Behavior
Center in Queens, N.Y., and author of several research papers on animal emotions.
Defranco says animals definitely have primary emotions like fear. They can
also feel anger. And now there is growing evidence that they have secondary
emotions like love, jealousy and greed. The proof may rest in the part of the
brain called the amygdala. It's believed that fear and possibly other emotions are
linked to neurons in the amygdala.

"It's a larger area in dogs than it is in humans. So we could say that the
dogs will experience more emotions. They live very much more in the moment than
humans do," Defranco said.


You don't have to convince Mike Malloy, who works as a dog whisperer at the
North Shore Animal League in Long Island, N.Y. He trains dogs by listening to
them and reading their emotions.

He agrees dogs have human-like emotions. "Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "I
think they miss the way people miss love ones, they hurt the way people hurt,
they grieve."

Pet photographer Rachel Hale tries to captures such emotions in her
portraits, including a recent sitting with a dog named Henry. "Every single image I
take of Henry, he chose a different emotion," she said. People may believe their
pets are feeling emotions like sadness, love and joy, but are we really just
projecting those emotions onto our pets?

Brisken has no doubt that her dog feels at least one emotion: "Oh, I know he
loves me," she said.


I thought I'd share this interesting article that questions whether companion
animals are capable of feeling emotions. One of the aspects of temperament
testing that leaves the biggest void is that the tests themselves don't take
into account the emotional state of the dog being tested.

Does a dog who has just been abandoned by his family feel sorrow and loss
that would be expected if the same happened to a human? Is a dog that has been
neglected or abused capable of feeling anger, resentment, fear or lack of trust
with the next human encounter?

In order to devise a test that would take into account temporary behavioral
traits it becomes imperative to remove the dog from the shelter environment
BEFORE such testing commences. My experience is it takes several days of shelter
 deprogramming before many shelter dogs return to a behavioral state more
indicative of their natural behavior. That being said, that is also why I don't
believe anyone can design a temperament testing alternative to be used IN the
shelter but instead the alternative solutions need to focus on finding ways to
involve more rescue groups, breed clubs, volunteers, behavioral trainers and
foster homes as solutions to temperament testing in shelters.

Temperament testing that takes into account an animals current emotional
state and that is used as a tool to work with those issues is an acceptable
"therapy" for a shelter dog. Temperament tests used to simply determine which
animals are adoptable and which (in the opinion of the tester) are not is a misuse
of the theories about any temperament evaluation.