There is a lot about the emotions our dogs experience that still needs to be discovered.
However, researchers have come to believe that the mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a 2.5 years old human. This means we think they have the same basic emotions as a young toddler, ranging from happy and excited to anxious or afraid. Only the more complex emotions, that humans also learn later in life, are not developed in our Canines. Research for example has shown that dogs do not experience “guilt”, an emotion incorrectly attributed to them in the past.
If dogs experience a strong emotion, let’s say fear, they are very likely to respond physically. They might growl, pull the lead, or run up to whatever they feel frightened by. As an owner you can feel embarrassed by your dog’s behavior and you want your dog to stop. Before you know it, you are responding from your own emotions: telling your dog off, pulling the lead back or shouting for your dog to come back. Usually this is accompanied by a harsh voice as your dog is likely not listening which angers you even more. In this context it’s easy to see that this is not going to benefit the dog.
But let’s look at another emotion that is often strong in dogs: excitement. Many dogs get excited when they see another dog and when they get a little too excited, they are hard to “reach” for their owners. They lay flat on the floor, run straight up to the other dog, run circles around them or just keep play bowing in hopes of making a new friend. If they are leashed, they will likely try to pull their owner and/or bark or wine. It’s again easy for owners to get annoyed and upset with their dog for “not behaving”. At other times owners have been taught to make themselves more interesting than the other dog. They make funny voices to draw back the dog’s attention or start to throw a ball in hopes of enticing the dog. This strategy could work – the dog MIGHT choose his human. But dogs can link such events perfectly fine. Meaning that the excitement won’t be any less next time they see a dog, it could even become stronger as he now expects his owner to join in the party!
Truth is, if a dog is experiencing “big emotions”, he isn’t capable of listening. At that moment his emotions are overruling his common sense. And the owner’s natural response of annoyance, anger or frustration only fuels the fire. Hence, however hard it is, if your dog is experiencing a big emotion, try to stay calm yourself.