Dogs Don’t Have Emotions or Experience “Love”

Thank you Listcrux for the Photo

How does that headline hit you?

Does it ruffle your proverbial feathers, or do you agree?

Do you think dogs have emotions, or do you think animals and most other mammals are emotionless?

This is the “discussion” I had with a good friend not too long ago; especially in relation to “Love”.  He believes dogs are not capable of “Love”.

He is very much a “working dog” person and really doesn’t get into the pet side or “love” a dog or dogs, they are more of a means to an end with him.

Before you hate on him, I think he was yanking my chain mostly (because he likes to do this) and he allows my dog to be a “pet” in his house when I visit; getting up on the sofa with him, his wife and kids and she was even once spotted in their bed with his wife ha ha!

What makes that funnier is that once he swore to me no dog would ever be allowed in his bed (months prior to the sighting); this is because my dogs are allowed in the bed when they have achieved that privilege!

So Let’s Talk About This

Thank you cutestuff for the photo

Thank you cutestuff for the photo

What do you think?

I suppose at first it depends on how you define emotions.

The definition of emotion is a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from ones circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.

Actually there are over 90 definitions in Wikipedia.

So this was the beginning of our “discussion” simple or basic emotions vs. complex emotions.

I Think We Can All Agree

I think we can all agree that dogs experience simple emotions such as fear, sadness and joy, but is love a simple or basic emotion or a more complex emotion?

The American Psychological Association defines basic emotions as anger, surprise or fear and more complex emotions being shame, guilt and pride.

I know, having worked with animals for over 20 years that even when they should be shameful, guilty or prideful they don’t experience the thought process needed to have these emotions (good for them).

I personally think “love” falls into the basic side of emotion.

Can Love Be Complex?

Sure it can!!  But I think as humans we make love complex instead of the act of “loving” being complex.

If you want to suck some time out of your day Google “Is Love a Complex Emotion” .

You can also Google “Emotion in Animals” and get this Wikipedia Definition (which I found very interesting actually although it doesn’t discuss “love”) click on the above link which will take you to the page and if you don’t like basic science on emotion skip down the page to the part about canines.

Because after our discussion (that got pretty heated but only in an understanding way) I had to do all kinds of Google searches to prove my point and there is all kinds of information out there although very little coming from a scientific place.

Psychology Today wrote an article in March of 2013 that proves that dog brains do release oxytocin like human brains, and that is what we signify with “Love” or that feeling of “Love”.  For more on that article click here.

I personally like scientific information and scientific studies because they do more for “proving” than merely providing an opinion or conjecture.  And, in order to be truly scientific it needs to be able to be reproduced as a study; which in my mind also goes to more proof than opinion.

loveThe Problem with That

Well, there are many problems with that, actually.  It takes money to fund studies, and most people would rather invest money to cancer research (or the like) than study if dogs feel “Love”.  And, I can certainly understand and respect that.

And, research needs to be done on awake dogs in an MRI machine.

Have you ever had an MRI?  They are notoriously one of the noisiest and scariest (my opinion) machines around and you can’t move while an MRI is being executed.

Gregory S. Burns (more for him click on his name) is executing a study using MRI’s and awake dogs to delve into how their minds work when it comes to emotion. 

I think this is great, and yet difficult because the amount of dogs used and capable of training to stay completely still while using an MRI is very small.  For more on that research and the upcoming book click here.

I Am a Believer

I can’t scientifically explain it, although I’d like to but I am a believer that dogs have emotions and “Love” is definitely one of them.  I know this not only in my heart but also because of my simple interaction with my dogs and with the dogs throughout my lifetime.

I have no doubts in my mind and really can’t be swayed in the other direction unless a lot of research and science proves it (which doesn’t seem that it is swinging that way).

So What Do You Think and Why?

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  1. Kathy says:

    Dogs are certainly capable of pure love. Pure love is not the negotiated quid pro quo pre-nup thing that often passes these days. Pure love is simple, you are more important than me. “No greater love hath no being than s/he lay down his life”. Many a dog has done this. My lab mix banged her little body against the bathroom door when my son had a seizure. It had to hurt and she was still a puppy. Rescue dogs have gone well over training duty. In all the training things I’ve read the emphasis is how to teach the dog to make the right choice. They do decide, they know they have a choice. They choose to love; braver and more giving than many people ever will or some will ever understand no matter how many PHDs they have.


    Monica Henderson Reply:

    I agree with you Minette, and Kathy, you hit the nail on the head 🙂 pure, unconditional love is simple,and I think dogs are certainly capable of pure love as are human toddlers and small children. I also believe dogs have the same simple emotions as humans do. When I look into my, rescue dog,Rusty’s eyes, I see an overwelming look of pure love, trust and happiness. When I look into my 2 yr old nephew’s eyes, I also see an overwelming look of pure love, trust and happiness.


  2. Joanne Mangum says:

    I sure believe with Monica,Kathy dogs do know what love is and they need to be loved..When I tell Kaylee my toy Chihuahua she is only 13 weeks old that I love her all the time and then she is giving me lots of kisses so they do know they are just like having a little baby…


  3. carolynn says:

    I believe that dogs are absolutely capable of love, for the very reason that they certainly have other emotions, fear in particular, so why not love.

    I once had a couple of rescue dogs and two years after I rescued them I went back to the same part of the country with my husband and went to the rescue place for a visit and a cup of tea. When we tried to put one of the dogs back in a rescue pen (only for a couple of hours during the visit) the dog freaked out completely and started screaming in terror. In the end we left him quite happily waiting in the car.

    Why shouldn’t a dog be able to show the opposite emotion to fear. Of course they can. Some are more “lovey” than others. One I have now shows total adoration and he gazes into my eyes before attempting to draw my brains down though my nose with his tongue. Gross I know, extremely uncomfortable if you can’t stop him, but I can’t deny the look in his eyes.


  4. Deborah says:

    Do dogs love? Duh, yes. Just look into your dog’s eyes.
    I’m not a fan of over-interpreting animal feelings, but it’s sheer time-wasting silliness to deny animals’ obvious emotions.

    Jeepers, emotional expression is a key way how dogs and humans communicate…if dogs didn’t experience and express similar emotions as ours, we probably never would have domesticated them.


  5. Anne says:

    I read your article and the responses of others about dog’s abilities to love.
    I have had the joy of being loved by four dogs throughout my adult life. (One dog at a time). Each of the dogs had shown emotions and love. One would only need look in their eyes and the expression on their faces to see the love. It’s a connection on an emotional level with the dog like we have with a family member(sister or brother).
    If anyone would doubt that dogs can love, how can they be sure humans are capable of pure, non-sexual love?
    I believe all creatures are capable of simple or pure love.
    I think we have over defined the meaning.


    Minette Reply:

    I believe dogs and other animals do… I don’t think people are capable 😉 just my opinion


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