I am glad to read about the serious researches with findings that show dogs do have a limbic system that works identically to the humans limbic system with respect to controlling emotions. This means that dogs do feel emotions, and that it is no longer accepted that they are only responding to punishment and reward cues, as was the view of strict behaviorists in the 1960s.
Neuroscientists’ research have found that dogs experience emotions such as happiness, enjoyment, pride, confusion, affection, embarrassment, anxiety, anger, surprise, depression, and even emotions such as resignation and distrust. Through their positive emotions, dogs build enduring personal resources such as coordination, problem-solving, and social relationships with dogs, other species, and people. Through negative emotions dogs are protected from situations that may be dangerous.
Fear is one of the most ingrained, basic canine emotions, arising many times from instinct. This instinctual fear benefits dogs’ survival by helping dogs avoid engaging in dangerous behaviors, such as dashing into busy traffic, or jumping off a high wall. Environmental adaptation and survival of dogs is promoted by this fear.
Negative experiences can develop into fears, or associations made by the dog between certain environmental conditions and their negative results. An example is when a person’s cooking results in setting off the fire alarm; their dog would associate their owner’s cooking with the deafening sound of the fire alarm. The dog probably shakes uncontrollably whenever his owner starts to cook anything. One way to alleviate this would be to have the dog stay in another room while the owner is cooking.
Fear of the Fourth of July can be as traumatic as fear of thunderstorms for some dogs. Some dogs have been known to pant, pace, bark, lick excessively, urinate or defecate in the house, and even jump through windows with disastrous results. This sort of fear can be alleviated in many dogs by wrapping the chest and abdomen in a stretchy garment worn tight against its body. Wrapping the body causes sensory receptors in the skin and muscles to activate; and those sensory receptors are calmed because the level of needed sensation for them to fire is raised by this wrapping. The dog will settle down, relaxed with its guard lowered.
Emotions can be both instinctual and learned for both humans and dogs. This complex subject will be continued in my next articles.
Information by M. Christine Zink, DVM, Ph.D.