Do We Really Understand Our Dogs?

Photo by Camilo Fierro on Unsplash

The RSPCA has raised concerns about how well we understand our dogs after a survey discovered that two in 10 people don’t believe dogs can experience sadness or boredom.

The RSPCA’s Animal Kindness Index – released in partnership with the Scottish SPCA – is a groundbreaking study looking at the nation’s attitude towards animals.

The report, based on a YouGov survey of more than 4,000 UK adults*, found that animal welfare is one of the top most important social issues people were asked about, that over two-thirds (69%) of the public describe themselves as ‘animal-lovers’.

What is concerning to the RSPCA – who rescue and rehome more than 4,000 dogs every year – is that there’s still a number of people who don’t believe dogs can feel emotions such as worry, sadness and boredom.  

Esme Wheeler, dog behaviourist and RSPCA dog welfare expert, said: “Dogs are often labelled as man’s best friend and are widely understood to be sentient, social and highly intelligent and emotionally intuitive.

“I’m really pleased that the Animal Kindness Index found that 92% of people agreed that dogs were sentient and that so many people believed dogs could feel a range of emotions, including happiness and fear (both 86%), as well as sadness (80%) and worry (69%). 

“However, what is concerning is that this means there are still large numbers of people who do not believe that dogs can feel basic negative emotions, and this may mean that many dogs could be suffering or struggling without recognition.

“If approximately a fifth of people believe dogs don’t feel sadness or boredom and around a third do not believe dogs feel worry, then there could be millions of sad and worried dogs living in the UK, and that’s a really sad thought, particularly given the surge in dog ownership** that we saw over the last few years.”

The Animal Kindness Index found the following number of respondents believed dogs could feel certain emotions:

  • 86% believe dogs can feel fear;
  • 86% believe dogs can feel happiness;
  • 83% believe dogs can feel love towards people;
  • 80% believe dogs can feel sadness;
  • 80% believe dogs can feel boredom;
  • 73% believe dogs can feel jealousy;
  • 71% believe dogs can feel anger;
  • 71% believe dogs can feel love towards other dogs;
  • 69% believe dogs can feel worry.

Do we really understand our dogs?

The RSPCA wants to help people be better dog owners and is urging the public to be #DogKind ensure they understand dog behaviour and body language so they know that their beloved pets are living happy, fulfilled lives.

Esme added: “We know most people understand the signs our dogs give us to indicate that they’re happy; such as waggy tails, relaxed body postures, and play-bows. But it can be easy for owners to miss the subtle signs that indicate that our dogs are worried or sad; especially if people don’t believe they’re capable of such emotions.

“If your dog holds their head low, tucks their tail, pushes their ears back, yawns, licks their lips or avoids eye contact then these can all be signs that they’re feeling worried. It’s really important to learn these signs so you can help your dog be as happy as possible, and so you can avoid difficult situations or unwanted behaviours such as aggression.

“Sadly, everyday aspects of life can be difficult for some dogs – such as loud noises, unknown visitors to the house, or being left home alone – so understanding that our dogs can feel these emotions and knowing the signs to look out for can help us to help them. And let’s face it, we all love our dogs so much that we just want them to be happy!”

Welfare experts were pleased that the Animal Kindness Index found that 92% of respondents said they believe dogs are sentient. This comes after the Sentience Bill completed its final stages in the Houses of Parliament earlier this year – ensuring that animal sentience (animals’ capacity to experience feelings and sensations) is finally recognised in UK law.

To help the RSPCA continue rescuing animals, investigating cruelty and working to improve animal welfare in England and Wales, please visit our website or call our donation line on 0300 123 8181.

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