Can My Dog Be Sad?

"Can my dog be sad?" is a question many dog owners would like to have answered. We have all heard that it's wrong to attribute human characteristics to animals (anthropomorphism).

The argument for anthropomorphism is valid enough: if I can't prove (verify) something, I'd better disregard it (at least scientifically); and I can't prove that my dog is happy, sad, or loves me.

Then again, we are not better off with our own spouses, children, friends, not to speak of strangers. What do we know of their feelings and emotions? We can't prove either that they are happy, sad, or love us. We assume it (and often we are wrong) because we compare their behavior with our own when we are in particularly similar states of minds.

You may argue that there is a difference between comparing humans with one another, and humans with other animals, that we are after all members of the same species and that it makes sense to presume that if I am sad when I show a certain behavior, then you are also sad when you show the same (similar) behavior. You may have a point, though not a very scientific one—and yet not always. Cultural differences, as you know, play us many tricks and some expressions cover completely different emotions in different cultures.

Our attributing emotions to others is a case of empathy, or being able to set ourselves in the place of the other. Recently, researchers have also found that honey-bees are capable of showing a kind of emotional response; and honey-bees, as invertebrates, account for about 95% of all species.

If the only reason why I can assume that someone feels something particular is by comparison, then, I fail to see why we cannot accept that animals (at least some species) also can be happy, sad, etc. The comparison is more distant, but aren't we after all sons and daughters of the same DNA elements?

Therefore, if it is a sin to attribute other animals human characteristics, it must also be a sin to say that because we do, they don't, because we can, they can't. The first is, as we know, called anthropomorphism; the second, I will name it anthropodimorphism.

So, if you ask me "Can my dog be sad?" I will ask you back "Can you?" and if you answer "Yes, of course", then I'll say "In that case, probably so can your dog, albeit differently from you—a difference of degree, not of kind."

Bottom-line: don't assume that others feel the same as you do, not your fellow humans, not other animals. Don't assume either that they don't, because they might.

Life is a puzzle, enjoy it!

R-

Read also my "Do Animals Have Feelings?" at my WordPress blog.