15 Myths About Dog Emotions

Think you’ve heard it all about our canine companions and their feelings?

Well, the world of dog emotions is a maze filled with myths at every turn.

From tail wags to barking tales, misconceptions are more common than you’d think!

In this article, we share with you 15 myths about dog emotions.

Smiling Dog Equals Happy Dog

We’ve all seen those adorable photos on the internet, haven’t we?

Dogs “smiling” from ear to ear, and it’s easy to assume that this always means a happy dog.

But here’s the twist many don’t know: that grin can sometimes mean something entirely different.

In some situations, what we interpret as a “smile” can actually be a sign of overheating, anxiety, or even a submissive gesture to avoid conflict.

This is called a “submissive grin.”

Dogs use it to communicate with other dogs and even with us.

So, while a smiling dog can indeed be a joyful one, it’s essential to understand the context and the other body signals your dog is showing.

That way, you’re not mistaking discomfort for happiness.

Dogs Always Know When They’ve Done Something Wrong

A toppled trash can, a torn pillow, or a chewed-up shoe—many owners swear their dog “knew” they had done something wrong because of their guilty looks.

However, here’s an eye-opener: dogs live in the present.

That sheepish or guilty look?

It’s often a response to our reactions, not the act itself.

Dogs are masters at reading our body language, so when they see our upset faces or hear that stern tone, they react with a submissive posture.

It’s not an acknowledgment of a past mistake but rather a real-time reaction to our current demeanor.

Remember that time you walked in on a mess but laughed it off?

Chances are, your dog didn’t show the “guilty” look then.

Dogs Feel Guilt

Expanding on our previous myth, this one’s a real doozy.

The drooped ears, the lowered head, the sad eyes—it’s easy to think our dogs are feeling guilty about something they’ve done.

But most animal behaviorists and experts believe that dogs don’t feel guilt in the way humans do.

What we interpret as “guilt” is more about their reaction to our behavior or, in some cases, their anticipation of a possible negative response from us.

A dog doesn’t chew your favorite book and then think, “Uh-oh, I shouldn’t have done that.”

More accurately, when they see your unhappy response, they show a submissive demeanor to appease you.

It’s not about the chewed book; it’s about the present moment and your current emotions.

This revelation changes the game, doesn’t it?

It’s a testament to how deeply our dogs tune into our feelings and how essential it is for us to understand theirs.

Old Dogs Are Always Grumpy

We often hear people say, “Old age has made him a grumpy dog.”

But this is an oversimplified view of our senior fur buddies.

While older dogs might have a lower tolerance for certain stimuli due to discomfort, pain, or even diminishing sight and hearing, labeling them as “grumpy” isn’t fair.

It’s crucial to differentiate between a naturally grouchy demeanor and a dog trying to communicate pain or discomfort.

Often, changes in behavior in older dogs are health-related.

That snappy old dog might be experiencing arthritis or dental pain.

So, before labeling an old dog as perennially grumpy, consider their health and comfort.

Dogs Can’t Sense Human Emotions

Contrary to this myth, dogs are incredibly attuned to our feelings.

Ever noticed how your dog snuggles up to you when you’re feeling blue or keeps their distance when you’re agitated?

They’re not just picking up on verbal cues but are incredibly sensitive to our body language, tones, and even chemical changes that our bodies emit based on emotions.

Research has shown that dogs can even sense our emotional states through the smells we release!

It’s astounding to think about the depth of connection and understanding our dogs have with us, isn’t it?

Always Happy When They Wag Their Tail

Tail-wagging is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of dog behavior.

While a wagging tail can indicate a happy, excited dog, the story doesn’t end there.

The direction, height, and speed of the wag can convey a range of emotions.

A high, rapidly wagging tail might indicate excitement, while a slow wag at a medium height can mean a dog is insecure or uncertain.

Then there’s the stiff, low wag, signaling a more serious, focused state.

Just like humans use tone and volume in speech, dogs use tail wags.

It’s an entire language in itself!

Dogs Desire Pack Leadership

This idea became popular with the belief that dogs constantly vie for dominance and that we need to assert ourselves as the “alpha” for a harmonious relationship.

However, modern dog behavior studies have debunked this notion.

Dogs, especially domestic ones, seek companionship, security, and understanding.

Establishing trust and mutual respect, rather than dominance, creates a strong bond between human and dog.

The ‘pack leadership’ theory stems from outdated and misunderstood observations of wolf behavior, but our home dogs are not wild wolves.

What they truly desire is a loving and understanding home.

Dogs Don’t Feel Loneliness

Oh, how wrong this is!

Dogs are social creatures at their core.

Centuries of domestication have hardwired them to be in the company of humans.

Leaving a dog alone for extended periods can lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety.

In fact, there’s a term for it—Separation Anxiety.

Signs can range from mild pacing to destructive behavior.

To think that our dogs don’t yearn for company or feel the pangs of loneliness is to disregard their innate nature.

Their world revolves around us, their family.

Just as humans need social interaction, so do our furry pals.

They rely on us not just for food and shelter but also for emotional sustenance.

A Dog’s Yawn Is Just About Tiredness

When we see a dog yawn, our first thought might be, “Aw, someone’s sleepy!”

But dog yawns aren’t always about catching some Z’s.

Yawning in dogs can also be a sign of stress or discomfort.

In some contexts, it’s a calming signal—a way for a dog to cope with a situation or communicate to others that they mean no harm.

So next time you see your pup yawning, take a moment to observe the environment and any potential stressors.

It might be more than just bedtime beckoning.

All Dogs Love To Play The Same Way

Just like humans have preferences in games and sports, dogs too have their own unique play styles.

Some dogs enjoy a boisterous game of fetch, while others might find joy in a simple tug-of-war.

Some might be runners and chasers, and others might prefer using their noses for tracking games.

It’s essential to learn and respect each dog’s play preference, ensuring they’re having fun and feeling safe during their playtime.

Dogs Forget Past Trauma

The belief that dogs “live in the moment” and easily forget past traumatic experiences is misleading.

Dogs, like humans, can and often do carry emotional scars from past traumas.

Whether it’s abuse, abandonment, or a severe accident, traumatic experiences can manifest in various behaviors in dogs, from skittishness to aggression.

With patience, love, and sometimes professional help, dogs can heal from these traumas, but understanding and acknowledging their past is the first step.

If A Dog Growls, It’s Purely Aggressive

Growling can be off-putting, but it’s a crucial form of canine communication.

Yes, sometimes, it’s a warning or a sign of discomfort.

However, growling can also occur during play or when a dog is anxious.

It’s their way of saying, “I’m not comfortable with this” or “back off a bit.”

Instead of punishing a dog for growling, we should heed the warning and assess the situation, ensuring everyone’s safety and comfort.

Licking Always Shows Affection

We often associate our dogs’ licks with “kisses” and signs of affection.

While many times it is a gesture of love, dogs also lick for various reasons.

Licking can be a self-soothing behavior, a sign of anxiety, or even a way to seek attention.

In some cases, dogs might lick because they’re attracted to the taste of salty skin or lotions.

So while those doggie “kisses” are often sweet, remember they can have different meanings.

A Happy Dog Is A Loud Dog

Barking, howling, and being vocally active doesn’t always equate to happiness in a dog.

While some dogs are naturally more vocal than others, excessive noise can sometimes be a sign of boredom, anxiety, or even discomfort.

It’s essential to understand the context and triggers for a dog’s vocalizations to ensure they’re genuinely happy and not trying to communicate a different need.

Jealousy Is Purely A Human Emotion

Anyone who’s brought a new pet home or even just paid a bit too much attention to another dog in the park knows this myth isn’t true!

Dogs can, and often do, exhibit signs of jealousy.

Whether it’s nudging your hand away from another pet or showing possessiveness over toys, our canine companions can feel the green-eyed monster just like us.

Recognizing and managing these feelings can help maintain harmony in a multi-pet household or when introducing new members to the pack.

In the fascinating world of our four-legged friends, it’s crucial to separate fact from fiction.

Before You Go…

You now know 15 myths about dog emotions.

If you want to learn more, read the following articles too!

Or watch this video:

Mena Emad, DVM
Mena has a Bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine. His expertise, passion for animal welfare, extensive knowledge, and experience in the field of veterinary medicine make him an excellent resource for our readers.