Tuesday, October 19

Can Dogs Be Pessimistic?

There is still so much to learn about dogs and their emotions, we as humans want to put our emotions onto dogs, and we know enough about dogs to know that they don't process things as we do.  But can they be pessimistic or optimistic?  According to the research done by academics at the University of Bristol, and funded by the RSPCA (which is published in Current Biology, October 2010), they can.  Professor Mike Mendl, Head of the Animal Welfare and Behaviour research group at Bristol University’s School of Clinical Veterinary Science, who led the research, said:  “We know that people’s emotional states affect their judgments and that happy people are more likely to judge an ambiguous situation positively. What our study has shown is that this applies similarly to dogs – that a ‘glass-half-full’ dog is less likely to be anxious when left alone than one with a more ‘pessimistic’ nature.”
The academics were able to test dogs by taking dogs at two UK animal re-homing centers and teaching them that a bowl placed in an optimistic location always had food in it, then when moved to the pessimistic location there would be no food  and then it was moved to ambiguous locations in between the pessimistic and optimistic location.  The dogs that would rush to the bowls in the ambiguous locations as if there were food in it were thought to be optimistic and as it turns out also displayed little to no separation anxiety when left alone.
The study certainly makes sense and any research that helps us understand our pups a little more is great.  What I love is that there are academics hard at work to crack this code for the sole purpose to allow humans to better understand our four-legged best friends so maybe we can prevent them from being re-homed.  Think of how amazing it would be to be able to fix a dog with issues just by being able to understand what emotions they are experiencing if any.  I know nothing is that easy, but as a trainer I long to understand every thought process because it would open up a whole new world.  There are times we really have no idea why a dog is doing what they are doing and unfortunately this is often why they are given up to shelters.  So seeing studies like this really excites me and gives me so much hope for what training will be able to accomplish in the future.

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