Do dogs understand emotions? And how well?

My dog Max. He is smart, witty, sneaky, playful, a bad boy, a good boy, a stinky boy, and a sleepy boy. All in all he is the greatest dog ever, but that’s without saying. But sometimes he can be a very bad boy, and usually with the bad boy part comes the sneaky part. Every time I come home and see something torn up all over the floor, I take one look at Max and he lowers his head, ears, and slowly walks away as if he knew he had done something very bad. I get upset, and he knows it, but then again sometimes I just think he is cute and he totally gets away with it. Lucky dog.

I always thought that my Max, and animals in general, understood emotionally when they are being bad and when they are being good. The reaction they give off when I say “bad boy” or “good boy” tells me they understand. But I started thinking about this more after I watched a segment on a news show explaining a study that found that animals in general don’t feel emotions like guilt or joy or even know the difference between your tone of voice as their owner. I honestly didn’t believe it to be true, it’s just too much of a coincidence for that study to be true. So I did a study of my own.

One night as I walked in the door I saw the torn up paper towel on the floor and I decided that I would not say anything or make any noise. All I did was look at Max. Then I looked at the paper towel. Then back to Max again. He got the gist of what I was saying without me even making a peep. He began to lower his head and lower his ears and slowly walk away. He knew what he had done wrong.

I think dogs know exactly what they are doing when they are bad, and I think dogs know exactly how to gain praise. My Max knows exactly how to be cute, a little too much. Dogs know how to ask you to play. Why? Because playing brings them joy, and joy is an emotion. My dogs Max and Pumpkin play with each other all the time, and they even act like complete jerks to each other with their treats. They like to tease each other by leaving the treat and then when the other goes after it they fight. It’s all one big game, just like humans. We tease each other everyday.

On thing that is different about dogs, or animals in general, from humans… they will never turn their back on you. They are always there even after you yell at them. They love to show affection. and they truly are a man’s best friend. I was never a dog person until I found Pumpkin in the street just wandering around and I brought her home. Then my dad brought Max home from a coworker who could not keep him. Two of the best things to ever happen to me and my dad. I love my dogs, and one thing I know for sure, they love me back.

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