The majority of relationships between dogs and their owners are intensely emotional in nature. We grow attached to our pets, especially over time. Most owners are of the opinion – oftentimes, the strong opinion – that their dogs understand their feelings to a certain extent. Where the matter can get confusing is in the area of communication.
We are very verbally-oriented, whereas our canine companions express themselves with gestures, movements, facial expressions and vocalizations that are wholly unlike our own languages. We may feel that we are reading our dogs accurately, and that they understand our emotions as well, but we have no way of clearly verifying what we think we know.
Many studies have been made of dogs and their ability to empathize with humans. Recently, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand conducted an experiment with ninety Dunedin dogs. They concluded that these dogs were able to distinguish between anger and happiness as well as between the sounds of laughter and crying.
A good animal trainer can demonstrate how a dog understands when we’re nervous as opposed to calm, dominant as opposed to passive by pointing out changes in its behavior. Dogs also communicate through behavioral changes when there’s upheaval in their personal world. This could be caused by the presence of a new romantic partner, pet, or baby in the household. It’s generally understood that dogs, being pack animals by nature, gauge their proper place in any “pack” by reading the subtle emotional cues that are emanated by those around them. They literally feel the energy of our emotions radiating from our bodies.
We know that they sense what we’re feeling, therefore, but we can’t know how they interpret what they’re sensing. The work of animal communicators has managed to delve more deeply than conventional science into this world of dog sensitivity and reaction. Many animal communicators insist that dogs have rich emotional lives and tend to form quite complex relationships with their owners. It has often been remarked how certain dogs even pick up some of the mannerisms of their owners after they have lived with them for a long time.
It seems that the question of a dog’s empathy, and how far it may extend, cannot be answered to satisfaction if one remains objective and removed. We have to engage in order to understand. In order to know how deep the relationship can go, and how clear the emotional exchanges can become, we have to get involved. When we do this, we gradually learn to let our pets speak to us in their own way.
We stop trying to equate their kind of thinking with our own in a literal way (though we will still relate their communications to our own human experience). Many owners who have done this believe that they understand – and are understood by – their canine companions. They have no doubts about the unconditional love that is being passed back and forth. This is a phenomenon that can be intuitively felt but never proven in the world of hard facts.