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longgone's avatar

Watching animals, which emotions do you "allow" for?

Asked by longgone (7949 points ) 3 months ago

When I look at a dog, I imagine his emotional landscape to be not very different from my own. I feel he experiences sadness, joy, anger, surprise, fear, jealousy, even annoyance and boredom.

For reasons not quite clear to me, however, there are certain emotions I can’t imagine any animal to be feeling. Guilt is one of them. Shame is another.

Animals I don’t feel connected to (say, an ant or even a small mammal), I can’t believe to be feeling any “complicated” emotions at all. A mouse, for example, I would certainly believe to feel fear, pain, probably anger. Sadness – basic as it seems – I wouldn’t include, unless I actively asked myself why (the hell) a mouse shouldn’t be able to feel sad.

For this thread, I’m not asking what research says unless it’s interesting ;)

I’m more interested in finding out how different our views of animals are. Thoughts?

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9 Answers

Mariah's avatar

I allow myself to personify my cats way too much. I swear I have seen one of my cats get embarrassed, and another feeling smug.

snowberry's avatar

We used to have a dog that would destroy something while we were gone, and when I found her, she’d be acting strangely-the best way to describe it would be guilty. I’d pick her up and walk slowly from room to room with her. As we neared the scene of the crime, she’d start to shake, and by the time we got within sight of it, she’d be vibrating.

We called her Geiger Dog.

livelaughlove21's avatar

I probably think animals feel way more emotions than they really do, but I definitely think some can feel guilt. Whenever Daisy does something she’s not supposed to do, and then gets caught, she tucks her ears down with her tail between her legs and gives us love until she knows we’re not mad at her. Now, that’s dogs – I think cats are too selfish to feel guilt (animals after my own heart).

KNOWITALL's avatar

My dogs feel much like humans as do my birds. My female bird pushed the old bird off his pedestal forspite.

ibstubro's avatar

Nice roll model you are, @KNOWITALL!

I think animals are as varied as humans, in regard to shows of emotion. I’ve seen both dogs and cats show what I would term as ‘guilt’, meaning the ability to show remorse or dread punishment.

It only stands to reason that the animals humans domesticated for pets the earliest were the one they had an affinity with.

OpryLeigh's avatar

About that guilty look

There’s plenty of articles online explaining why dogs probably don’t feel guilt and what that “guilty” look actually means. I find this subject in particular very interesting.

Personally, I believe they can feel joy/happiness, boredom (I think many owners forget how important mental stimulation is for there dogs, often as much so as physical exercise), fear, distress, sorrow/depression, excitability (is that a word?) apprehension and satisfaction/contentment.

snowberry's avatar

@Leanne1986 Interesting link. So maybe I shouldn’t call it “guilty”. I’m not sure what the look meant, but whatever it was, we recognized it, and over the years (with one exception), invariably we’d find a mess somewhere (a poo, chewed up mail, etc.). I never punished her for this. She felt bad enough as it was.

Regarding the one exception, it looked to us that she apparently thought she had committed some offense in that area, but when we entered the “crime scene”, nothing was out of place.

downtide's avatar

My dog would also display guilt when she’d done something wrong. Normally when I came in she would greet me all excited with a wagging tail but when she’d committed some misdemeanour she would hold her tail and head down and crawl on her belly; classic submissive behaviour. Like @snowberry I never punished her for these things – dogs can’t relate a punishment to the act unless you catch them doing it and they end up just being afraid of you.

I have also seen cats display embarrassment. I once saw my friend’s cat fall off a fence. She quickly looked round to see if anyone was watching, noticed me looking and turned her back on me and started grooming herself. It was like “I meant to do that, honest!“_

Cats are also capable of calculated malice. When I was a kid we had a cat which we left in the care of our next door neighbour for a week while we went on holiday. When we returned, the cat refused to have anything to do with us and stayed with our neighbour for exactly one more week, then she came home as though nothing had happened.

snowberry's avatar

Same dog as above. When we were eating dinner or a snack, she’d give us this intense look. We always had the impression she was trying mind control. She’d look at our food, then at the floor, food, then the floor, willing it to fall to the ground. All I had to say was, “Gretchen, are you begging?” And she’d turn her head away and half close her eyes (I wasn’t really looking, honest)! Sometimes she’d slink off. If she were a people, I’d call that a guilty look for sure!

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