By John Gilpatrick
Imagine you‚Äôre at work and someone that you normally get along with is suddenly giving you the cold shoulder. In a matter of minutes, you start to hit the panic button. Did you do something to make your coworker upset?
As difficult as it is to interpret your friend‚Äôs emotions and their underlying causes, it‚Äôs even more difficult to do the same with your dog. And if you feel like your dog is angry with you, it‚Äôs not as easy as simply asking your pup if everything is OK.
So, is your dog mad at you? Here‚Äôs what the experts had to say about your dog‚Äôs feelings:
Do Dogs Feel Emotions?
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs not even on the table in terms of debate,‚ÄĚ says Linda Case, owner of AutumnGold Consulting and Dog Training Center in Illinois and author of The Science Dog. ‚ÄúBasic emotions like joy, fear, and anxiety‚ÄĒdogs definitely experience them.‚ÄĚ
Nannette Morgan, a certified dog trainer and associate certified dog behavior consultant based near San Jose, says affection, suspicion, excitement, and shyness are also common emotions dogs feel. She explains that a dog‚Äôs emotional development caps around that of a two-and-a half-year-old human.
Do Dogs Get Angry?
They can, Morgan says, but dogs don‚Äôt have the capacity to assign a motive to an emotion, which means being angry at you (or anything) isn‚Äôt something for which there is evidence.
This also means behavior that seems angry‚ÄĒgrowling, snapping, barking, etc.‚ÄĒis more in-the-moment than it is built-up and vengeful. It also means this behavior is just as likely to be indicative of frustration, fear, disappointment, or annoyance than it is anger as we tend to think about and experience it.
But My Dog Seems Mad at Me. Am I Crazy?
If you feel like your dog is mad at you, you may simply be reading into his behavior. It‚Äôs natural for humans to shift blame in certain difficult situations, says Case, especially onto themselves.
‚ÄúMaybe your dog isn‚Äôt getting as much exercise as he‚Äôs used to because your schedule has changed. Maybe, for a similar reason, he has some separation anxiety,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúGenerally speaking, it‚Äôs easier for us to say, ‚ÄėHe‚Äôs mad at me for something I did,‚Äô rather than consider that he has anxiety and doesn‚Äôt handle being alone well.‚ÄĚ
Another strong possibility is that the appearance of anger stems from a physical problem.
‚ÄúDogs are less inclined to show that they‚Äôre in pain. It‚Äôs evolutionary,‚ÄĚ Morgan says. ‚ÄúYour dog might not limp, but if he has a sore or strained muscle or tweaks his back, that could appear as if the dog is mad at you.‚ÄĚ
What Should I Do?
Don‚Äôt waste time trying to self-diagnose a problem. If your dog appears to be exhibiting anger, depression, or any other behavior changes that are severe or last for more than a few days, it‚Äôs worth getting a professional medical opinion.
‚ÄúIf your dog isn‚Äôt eating or is generally less physical or showing signs of malaise‚ÄĒthat can be a sign of something as simple as an injury or arthritis, or it could be more serious,‚ÄĚ Case says. ‚ÄúAnything that seems like he‚Äôs not his normal self is cause for concern and should be checked out by a veterinarian.‚ÄĚ
My Dog Is Healthy. Now What?
‚ÄúSo much of what we see in terms of behavior changes are unfortunately couched in anxiety or fear,‚ÄĚ Case says. That means there could very well be some trigger in your dog‚Äôs environment that‚Äôs bringing on the appearance of anger.
It could be something as small as a new or loud object that spooks him, or he could be reacting to something different that you‚Äôre doing‚ÄĒsuch as playing less or traveling more. Perhaps he‚Äôs dealing with the loss of another pet or family member.
Whatever the case, when you can isolate the trigger, you can start to help him acclimate to it or otherwise cope. If that‚Äôs not working, you may want to consider consulting with a professional behaviorist in your area.