Dogs and Emotions (ISCP Diploma in Canine Psychology Coursework)

What emotions have you noticed in dogs you have known? How did the dogs express those emotions?


When I open the door to the living room in the morning (the dogs sleep there), Shelagh my pit bull greets me with an enthusiastic full-body wag. She approaches me sideways in a simpering manner, head curving down to one side, eyes looking at me coyly, body swaying in time with her tail. When she gets to my feet she throws herself down and exposes her belly, eager for a tummy rub. Her mouth is open, tongue lolling, the area around her eyes are crinkled. I would say Shelagh is HAPPY to see me, and maybe she’s even laughing with JOY.

Scruffy, my little lotsabitsa, shows his HAPPINESS at seeing me in the morning in his own way. He’s half the size of Shelagh, so he decides the best way to get my attention is to jump up and down on his hind legs, staying out of Shelagh’s way, while smiling with his gently open and relaxed face, tongue hanging out. Later, out in the garden, after he’s done his business, Scruffy expresses his HAPPINESS by doing crazy zoomies, darting past me here and there, feigning to the left, then to the right. At breakfast time, he does a HAPPY dance by prancing around in circles.

When Shelagh is feeling UNCERTAIN, I notice she has a way of rolling her eyes in my direction, showing some white, and the underside of her eyes crinkle up. Sometimes her brow furrows at the same time, as if she’s trying to ask me a question, or is seeking reassurance. If she’s AFRAID, her tail drops right down and curves underneath her body. When she slowly regains her confidence, her tail comes back up again. When Shelagh was a puppy, she used to be quite FEARFUL whenever she’d piddled on the floor instead of on the newspapers I put down, and sometimes she’d even pee herself if I so much as raised my voice at her.

When Scruffy is UNCERTAIN or AFRAID, he tends to run away with his tail between his legs, and hide under the car. His ears will be flattened back against his head, and if I try to coax him out from under the car, he may thump his tail on the floor and “smile” at me almost apologetically, but he will refuse to come out and may even crawl deeper underneath the car away from me.

When Scruffy is AFRAID, he skulks close to the ground, tail under him. If he thinks I’m about to punish him when I bring my hand close to his face, he sometimes bares his teeth at me, but only for a second, before turning his face away and “apologising” by swishing his tail on the floor and rolling over onto his side submissively.

When both dogs are RELAXED, Shelagh’s ears are laid back. Scruffy is more highly strung, and has a more nervous nature, but when he’s RELAXED he tends to roll over and sleep with his legs in the air. Shelagh loves her afternoon naps in my bed with me, and shows her CONTENTMENT by curling round and plonking her head against my side, and sometimes rolling over to expose her tummy, begging for a rub. If I make a fuss of her by stroking her face, ears and tummy, and then stop, she asks for more by bumping my side with her head and turning her head round to lick my hand.

When Shelagh senses it’s time for her walk, she starts whining EXCITEDLY. She has a funny kind of whining routine, it sounds more like a yelp-whine, with whole volleys of very verbal and loud “Wowowowow”s interspersed with whines. In the car, on the way to the beach, perhaps, Shelagh will keep up this continuous yelp-whine. On the way home, now that her need has been SATISFIED, she’s surprisingly quiet. I first observed Shelagh’s strange yelp-whine routine when we were in our backyard swimming pool, and she would often do this when she’s decided not to jump in to fetch her ball, and it’s sunk to the bottom of the pool (it’s more like a leather sack with several large holes in it, than a proper ball now). Perhaps whining is for EXCITEMENT, and yelp-whining is for EXCITED FRUSTRATION?

For many months I have been observing Otto, one of my favourite dogs at the Refuge where I volunteer. Otto has a thing for certain men, he’s quite happy to play nice with some when they stand outside his enclosure, but with others he launches himself into a FURY of non-stop barking, until they go away. The sight of Otto leaping high into the air, literally bouncing off the walls and ceiling of his enclosure, barking his head off at a person, is one to behold. At some stage in his social development Otto may have been abused, FRIGHTENED or THREATENED by a man, so much so that whenever he sees a male visitor outside his enclosure, he decides in a split second whether to completely ignore the person, be his usual happy self, or go all out kamikaze batshit crazy.

And yet, even after such an outburst, I’ve always found it possible to distract Otto and calm him down by simply tempting him away from the source of his DISCONTENTMENT by using treats. On several occasions, I believe I was able to get Otto to feel COMFORTABLE and RELAXED, by soothing him with TTouch strokes, to the extent that even when visitors appeared outside his enclosure, Otto was HAPPY enough to let them pass by without batting an eyelid, literally.

Otto always welcomes me into his enclosure right at the door, by standing on his hind legs and nuzzling my hand with his head. He expresses his HAPPINESS by running to get his favourite toy while I open the door and let myself in. Sometimes Otto gets EXCITED when we’re playing and I’ve hidden his toy behind me, and he will bark at me. Not aggressively, but rather in a PLAYFUL “Hand it over already, woman!” way. He will do the same if I’ve gotten him to sit but am withholding his treat.

Django, another of my favourite dogs at the Refuge, also welcomes me at his door by nuzzling my hand with his head, or offering his head up for a scratch. When I’ve entered the enclosure, Django expresses his AFFECTION and LOVE for me by rubbing his entire body sideways against my legs, rather like a sinuous feline. He also loves to curl up by my side as I sit on his trampoline bed, and he’ll place his head in my lap, rather like my own dog Shelagh at home. I’ve tried TTouch strokes on Django and even managed to make him fall asleep for 10 minutes, he got that COMFORTABLE.

When I approach Django from outside his enclosure, through the fence, he often displays an APOLOGETIC manner, ducking his head down and coming towards me sideways, presenting his body for patting. He looks almost SORRY for himself. Again, I’m reminded of my own Shelagh when she thinks I’m about to scold her. Some kind words, strokes and treats soon puts him right again.

Justin is one of the Refuge’s dogs currently recuperating from a cruciate ligament operation. As a volunteer Canine Carer there, I sit with him to keep him company, and to make sure he doesn’t go off his head with BOREDOM. Justin is a Kelpie, an Australian working/herding breed known for their intelligence and active lifestyle, rather like Border Collies. Poor Justin was so bored cooped up in his cage by himself that one day, when I put the lead on him and took him out to the Puppy Yard next door so he could stretch his legs, relieve himself and have a little play, he thought I was taking him for a long walk. When he realised he was just going to the Puppy Yard, he took his FRUSTRATION out on my lead, by pulling it between his teeth and tugging on it and shaking it repeatedly. I settled him with some treats and an enrichment toy, and he was GRATEFUL enough for the distraction to bump and nuzzle me, at one point he even crawled onto my lap for a cuddle. When he sensed that it was time to go back into his cage, Justin expressed his FRUSTRATION again, this time by mouthing my elbow with his teeth.

From what I’ve experienced, dogs always smile with a panting face. Sometimes they just pant from exertion or the heat, but whenever a panting face is accompanied by wagging tails, prancing around and generally exuberant body language, I know they are smiling.

Taco, a boarder at the Refuge, is a tiny little chihuahua with a big attitude. I went to walk him one day, and he was FEARFUL of my approach, as I was a stranger to him. He barked himself into a corner, then flashed his teeth at me. As I went closer to slip the lead over his head, he flinched and moved away, growling at me. I crouched down to get closer to him without intimidating him, but Taco danced nimbly away from me. Once again, he was defensive aggressive towards me, flashing his teeth and trying to nip my fingers. I finally managed to corner him. As I dangled the lead over him and he cowered in the corner, he suddenly decided not to flee or fight, instead he froze. Taco lay on his side completely still, trembling with his head facing me, and I was able to slip the lead over his head. Once he was on the lead, Taco’s character changed just as suddenly as he’d frozen. He jumped up, tail wagging upright, and almost pulled me out of the kennel in his EXCITEMENT to go for his walk. Once in the exercise yard, I was able to slip off his lead easily, and off he went exploring. However, when the time came to put the lead back on and bring Taco back to his kennel, it was a repeat performance of what we’d gone through previously.

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