By Gene Lyons

Emotions With A Nose: The Social Behavior Of Animals

December 26, 2012 7:35 am Category: Memo Pad 8 Comments A+ / A-
Emotions With A Nose: The Social Behavior Of Animals

To anybody who spends a lot of time with animals, the march of science sometimes seems to lag common sense. Some years ago, I read an article in the New York Times about behavioral psychologists—university researchers with PhDs—who announced that after long study and many experiments, they’d concluded that dogs have emotions recognizably like our own.

I phoned my friend Randy, a veterinarian. Did this finding strike him as newsworthy? It did not.

“A [bleeping] dog,” he said “is emotions with a nose.”

Indeed, most dog lovers would say that dogs are rather more emotional than humans, mainly because the only feeling they sometimes hide is fear. Want to see joyous excitement? Pick up your dog’s leash and walk to the door. Dejection? Put it down and exit without him.

Whenever he’s left “alone” with the other 20-odd animals on our place, Jesse the Great Pyrenees acts as stricken as if he fears we’re never coming back. As for empathy, he’s often better at reading my wife’s moods than I am. Mine too. Any time I’m angry or frustrated about something, I’m getting a big white nose in my hand. Otherwise, he’s as stubborn and independent-minded as most of his livestock-guarding breed.

Fearless too. Best not to mess with a calf on Jesse’s watch. I once saw him throw a coyote about three feet, and then pick up and carry my neighbor’s baby goat back to its mama. Between him and his consort Maggie, we feel awfully safe around here. Although accepting of strangers, I believe they’d defend us with everything that’s in them.

The altruism of dogs, however, is something we’ve bred into them over thousands of years. Among the oldest products of human genetic engineering, dogs are pretty much what we’ve made them. Observing breeds of dog (not to mention pigeons) was one of the things that started Darwin thinking.

Other domestic animals exhibit cross-species empathy too. When I first learned to ride, my quarter horse Rusty got frightened by something and bolted. I lost a stirrup and decided to do an emergency dismount before I got thrown.

I was lying on my face in a winter wheat field, making sure I could still wiggle my toes, when I felt a tickling sensation on the back of my neck — Rusty’s whiskers. Instead of galloping back to the barn without me, he’d come back to make sure I was OK.

No philanthropist, on other occasions Rusty had untied himself and trotted home without me. The difference seemed to be his concern for my well-being.

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Emotions With A Nose: The Social Behavior Of Animals Reviewed by on . To anybody who spends a lot of time with animals, the march of science sometimes seems to lag common sense. Some years ago, I read an article in the New York Ti To anybody who spends a lot of time with animals, the march of science sometimes seems to lag common sense. Some years ago, I read an article in the New York Ti Rating:

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/MHGG5VSCP346T6ZY5FKRVL2HTA wizard

    Anyone who owns a dog or cat knows about their emotions. Horses, too. We are all connected by nature, and humans are the slow-learners, here.

  • Michelle Rose

    I have owned and bred dogs all my life. (Weimarners, dachshunds, and St. Bernards) The closest relationship I ever had with another living creature (with the possible exception of my spouse) was six wonderful years with my Great Pyrenees, Teddy. An objective observer might have concluded that he was fully telepathic, given that I rarely had to speak more than three words to him. He went everywhere with me, slept on the bed (rather pleasant on chill winter nights) and shared my life after my divorce in ways I cannot begin to express. I was devastated when he died as a result of melamine-contaminated dog food. I have not owned a dog since that terrible day.

    He knew my emotions as no one else could, including my spouse. He knew when I was sad (yes, he would lick my face when I wept) and he knew when I was happy or angry or depressed. He was at once noble and protective (God help you if you ever approached me without warning because he was likely to take off your arm at the elbow), sweet-natured and goofy (he loved to steal my socks and play tag), gentle and–there is no other word–tender with toddlers and small children. Babies fascinated him. He would nuzzle one and look up at me with the most indescribable expression in his big brown eyes. Small dogs amused him greatly and his tenderness toward puppies was identical to the care and gentleness he showed toward human children.

    If he had been a human, we would have called him a “good man.” Somehow, the term “good dog” does not have the same emotional impact.

    Nor does it do him justice. He was my child, in many ways, and I was his parent, whom he loved to excess. I will never forget him and when my time comes, I shall whisper his name as I go down into the final darkness, hoping that he is waiting there for me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gene-Lyons/1009819630 Gene Lyons

      Michelle, get another Great Pyrenees. There are many that need rescuing, because not everybody can deal with their independence (and shedding). Feed the dog nothing but Purina.

  • mkzp

    I hope the day comes soon when everyone the world over ‘gets it’ and realizes that animals, just because different from us in some respects, are not ours to torture and abuse for food, fashion, entertainment, testing etc. Evidence is clear. They feel, they suffer. How can we not do everything we can to stop it.

  • oldtack

    Did you ever observe how animals and birds nurture, train and discipline their young? We could learn a lot from our “pets” and livestock if we only took the time to observe. If we disciplined our young ones as they do we might have less problems later. They have it over us in another manner. They understand our every mood and utterance – they can understand “human” language but we have never understood theirs. And we are the most intelligent??

  • Michael Kollmorgen

    If HUMANS had half the Empathy our fellow sentient being have, we wouldn’t have the vast majority of problems we humans have.

    My current companion, Shadow is a cross between Lab, Box an Rot, about 90% Lab though.

    Coal Black totally. Yes, I think this dog is Telepathic.

    Yes, she sleeps with my at night keeping me warm as do our other two cats.

    She is very active with adults, but also hunkers down towards little ones. I didn’t train her to be this way. This is her natural way.

    Michelle said it best. I can’t top her comment.

    And yet, these religious wackos don’t believe my dog and other animals are not allowed to go to heaven? Are they crazy?

    They belong there more than we do.

    • 1bythebrooks2

      I have always believed and have comforted friends who have lost their beloved pets(children), that God did not give us these friends and companions to love and care for(as they do for us) just to have them die and that’s the end. NO, I fully belive that we will see them in Heaven and will be joyful at being reunited! P.S. Ever see the Robin Williams movie “What Dreams May Come?

      • Michael Kollmorgen

        No, I don’t think I have seen this movie. I’ll make sure I get it though. Robin Williams is always a good actor and always in good parts.

        You know, this thing about animals and heaven was touched on 40-50 years ago, in an old Twilight Zone Episode. The Episode was about an old man and his dog.

        A Coon drowned his dog and him while hunting. After they died, they saw all the trapping of his funeral. They came to two gates while walking in the wilderness. The first gate wouldn’t allow his dog to enter and he refused to go in it. The second gate allowed his dog along with him to enter. The first gate must have been the Devils Gate because even the dog was Leary, cautious about even approaching the gate.

        It was a very touching segment.

        I do not believe in any god because I am an Atheist. However, I do believe every living being on this planet has a Soul, a Spirit for lack of better words. I don’t know where we go and I doubt we’ll ever find out first before we go. I do believe wherever that place is, our companion pets play a major part of it, as I believe all animals might.

        My family has always had pets. We always buried them in pet Cemeteries.

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