dogs emotions

A video from Animal Aid Unlimited India offers a crash course on dogs’ feelings.

“This is a short film that everyone can watch that shows the emotional lives of dogs. I dare anyone to watch it and still say we don’t know if dogs have feelings.”

“This video made my cry with sadness and joy. Thanks to the people who made it and who took care of the injured dog.”

“Please write something on this wonderful story and get the word out to people who might not know about it. It is that important.”

“It’s ridiculous that people are still asking questions such as do animals think and feel. Of course they do, and we know it.”

A recent video from Animal Aid Unlimited, India called “Anguished mother dog wails for wounded baby. Sweetest reunion!” with around 22.8 million hits and more than 48,000 comments in a little more than two weeks, provides a comprehensive crash course on the emotional lives of dogs. I’ve received numerous emails about it and this short film could well be a game-changer for the very few remaining skeptics who still wonder if dogs and other nonhuman animals (animals) really feel wide range emotions. All of the people who wrote to me were very moved by the film of an injured dog, his mother, the wonderful people who rescued and rehabilitated a dog clearly in need of care and love, and the joyful and passionate reunion of the injured pup and his mother.

This video also makes it absolutely clear, as if more information were needed on top of the reams of scientific data that now exist that clearly show that many other animals have rich and deep emotional lives, that the important question at hand isn’t if dogs and other animals have emotions, but rather why they have evolved–what they’re good for. (See Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They DoUnleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possibleand numerous essays here for further dog-centric discussions and references.)

The three quotations with which I began this essay were among the many emails I received. And, here is another from a French colleague, Charles Couturier, that lays out what the film is all about. “It’s difficult to find something which better depicts both emotional contagion and cognitive empathy side-by-side, in dogs. Also, hidden under a leaf, lies what could be one of the most striking examples of complex reciprocity. I am saying “under the leaf”, let me explain. The behavior of this mom can’t be associated with altruism, of course, because of the strong kin-relation involved. However, I do not believe that she “expects” getting her puppy back when she “consents” to letting the man leave with him. I can’t possibly imagine that a dog mom living in the streets would “lend” a puppy hoping to get it back. So she gave it away, as she “feels” (by intuition) that she has run out of every option. She felt it was best for that pup that he leaves with this human and may never come back. However he does come back, she gets him back…understood, when she got her pup back, what happened. She could connect the dots.”

“Anguished mother dog wails for wounded baby. Sweet reunion!” could form the foundation for an entire course on the emotional lives of dogs and other animals. They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and my impression after watching this video more than 15 times is that it’s worth countless words, and also could form the basis for an entire book. article continues after advertisement

I can’t imagine that finding a spare 226 seconds, the length of “Anguished mother dog wails for wounded baby. Sweet reunion!” would be all that difficult to find, even for the busiest of people. And, perhaps you could also watch it with your canine companion if you share your home and heart with one or more. 

Shared emotions are “social glue”

One email I received read, “If someone really wonders if dogs have feelings then why in the world would they want to live with one?” I agree. If someone really wonders if dogs have rich and deep emotional lives, this is a good reason for them not to bring one home. Dogs want and need to be respected and loved, and shared emotions form the basis for forming and maintaining close, deep, and enduring social bonds. In an essay called “Dog, Cats, and Humans: Shared Emotions Act As ‘Social Glue’” I wrote about a study that shows how the degree of attachment relates to the attribution of emotions. And, in a piece titled “Animal Emotions and Beastly Passions: We’re Not the Only Emotional Beings,” I wrote: “Emotions have evolved as adaptations in numerous species and they serve as a social glue to bond animals with one another. Emotions also catalyze and regulate a wide variety of social encounters among friends and competitors and permit animals to protect themselves adaptively and flexibly using various behavior patterns in a wide variety of venues.”

My humble advice is to watch this wonderful film with human and canine family and friends, share it widely, and discuss what you see and hear with others. You’ll be able to feel the shared emotions between the dogs and the dogs and the humans who help them along. I also strongly suggest that you unleash your dog as much as possible so they can express what they’re truly feeling and be the dog who they truly are. It’s also essential to appreciate that not all dogs are the same–there is no “universal dog” and each individual is unique–and learn about and cherish their individuality. And, as you’re learning more about your canine companion, watch this video once again. I know I will for a long time. 

Stay tuned for further discussions of the emotional lives of dogs and other animals. While we know a lot, there still is much to learn. But, there is no doubt that dogs and numerous other nonhumans are sentient and feeling beings. And, take the time to appreciate your household animal companion(s) to learn about what each individual wants and needs and to become fluent in dog or the ways in which your other nonhuman roommates communicate with you. It’ll surely be a win-win for all. 

Originally published on Psychology Today and republished here with the kind permission of the author, Marc Bekoff, Ph.D.

Author’s Books on Amazon

Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do

Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible

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Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has published 31 books, won many awards for his research on animal behavior, animal emotions, compassionate conservation, and animal protection, has worked closely with Jane Goodall, and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. Marc's latest books are Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do and Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible (with Jessica Pierce) and he also publishes regularly for Psychology Today. Currently, Marc and Jessica are writing a book about what the world will be like for dogs as and when humans disappear (Dogs Gone Wild: Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World Without Humans, Princeton University Press, 202?). In 1986 Marc won the Master's age-graded Tour de France. His homepage is