/ Love For Earthlings

Can Dogs Be Pessimists?

Published September 12, 2011 in Love For Earthlings |

Since the idea that animals are just little biological machines, living unemotional lives run by instinct and base condition alone, has never really sat well with many — we always sensed there was more going on inside their heads than this.

Researchers from the University of Bristol have shown via experiment that dogs can be essentially optimistic or pessimistic by nature. As The Economic Times glibly describes it, there are dogs that see the glass (uh, bowl) half empty and those which see it half full.

The experiment to demonstrate this consisted of training dogs at two UK rehousing centres that when a bowl was placed in one location in the room it contained food and when placed in another location it would be empty. After which, the food bowl was placed in various locations in between the two.

The researchers found that some dogs, classed as “optimistic,” ran quickly to the middle locations, expecting food to be there, expecting a reward. Other dogs were, shall we say, less enthusiastic.

Extrapolating, those that were optimistic in nature were less likely to be anxious when left alone than dogs with a more pessimistic nature. The researchers say that about half the dogs in the UK at some point exhibit “separation-related behaviours — toileting, barking and destroying objects around the home — when they are apart from their parents. Our study suggests that dogs showing these types of behaviour also appear to make more pessimistic judgment generally.”

Perhaps it is being too generous to ascribe optimism and pessimism to these behaviours. After all, we cannot fully know what is going on with these dogs minds, any more than we can directly know the same for humans. But it is fascinating to me nevertheless to learn that, as with people, there well may be underlying emotional states — not just conditioning — influencing the behaviour of dogs.

After all, this is what most dog parents (and pet owners more broadly) intuitively know anyway. But now you can point to a study demonstrating this.

Adapted from an article on Planet Green

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