Sunday, 24 July 2011

dogs, humans and emotions

I know that Penny can have different moods.

According to Professor Mark Bekoff, formerly of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, most people agree that dogs experience emotion. He says:
I often begin my lectures with the question: “Is there anyone in this audience who thinks that dogs don’t have feelings—that they don’t experience joy and sadness?” I’ve never had an enthusiastic response to this question, even in scientific gatherings, although on occasion a hand or two goes up slowly, usually halfway, as the person glances around to see if anyone is watching. But if I ask, “How many of you believe that dogs have feelings?” then almost every hand waves wildly and people smile and nod in vigorous agreement.
Here are a few pictures of times when I felt sure I knew what Penny was feeling:






I came across an article on the Animals Australia page by Professor Bekoff and found it interesting. I thought I would quote a few parts of the article:
In scientific research there are always surprises. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, new scientific data appear that force us to rethink what we know and to revise our stereotypes. For example, spindle cells, which were long thought to exist only in humans and other great apes, have recently been discovered in humpback whales, fin whales, killer whales and sperm whales in the same area of their brains as spindle cells in human brains. This brain region is linked with social organization, empathy and intuition about the feelings of others, as well as rapid gut reactions. Spindle cells are important in processing emotions. It’s likely that if we seek the presence of spindle cells in other animals we will find them.

When I first began my studies centering on the question, “What does it feel like to be a dog or a wolf?” researchers were almost all skeptics who spent their time wondering if dogs, cats, chimpanzees and other animals felt anything. Since feelings don’t fit under a microscope, these scientists usually didn’t find any—and as I like to say, I’m glad I wasn’t their dog! ...

Part of the challenge in understanding the behavior of a species is that they look like us for a reason. That’s not projecting human values. That’s primatizing the generalities that we share with them.” [Quote from Professor Robert Sapolsky, a world-renowned ethologist and neuroscientist and author of A Primate’s Memoir] No matter what we call it, researchers agree that animals and humans share many traits, including emotions. Thus, we’re not inserting something human into animals, but we’re identifying commonalities and then using human language to communicate what we observe. Being anthropomorphic is doing what’s natural and necessary to understand animal emotions...

What we have since learned about animal emotions and empathy fits in well with what we know about the lifestyle of different species—how complex their social interactions and social networks are. Emotions, empathy, and knowing right from wrong are keys to survival, without which animals—both human and nonhuman—would perish. That’s how important they are. The borders between “them” (animals) and “us” are murky and permeable.
Professor Bekoff was speaking in relation to the use of animals in science, but I think his words have an important truth for us as dog owners. I'll finish with one last quote:
Our relationship with other animals is a complex, ambiguous, challenging and frustrating affair, and we must continually reassess how we should interact with our nonhuman kin.
MARC BEKOFF has published a book called The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy—and Why They Matter (New World Library, California, 2007).


curator said...

Goodness, I've NEVER questioned that our dogs and cats feel emotions very clearly. For example we took Briar on a road trip yesterday. He was raised in the mountains and doesn't like cars, so he was anxious as we ate lunch on the sidewalk. But no sooner had we moved inside a friendly wine bar than he was a calm, happy greeter dog. How can you miss a pet's emotions?

parlance said...

Curator, one interesting thing in the article was that everyone seems to agree how to recognise a happy animal, but scientists, especially those who use animals for scientific testing, won't admit that animals can be sad, unhappy or frightened.
But, as you say, we who live close to an animal can see both ends of the spectrum.

Lassiter Chase and T said...

I like the picture of Penny following a scent. I would hate to get in Penny's way if she was following a scent that was in my path, she might knock me down.

parlance said...

Lassiter Chase, you're so right! Penny does not like any other dog to come near her when she's tracking a scent!