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Do Dogs Feel Regret?
Are they truly sorry for mistakes?

In a recent article in The New York Times, John Tierney discusses recent research indicating that animals may experience feelings of regret. One scientist quoted in the article defines regret as the recognition of a missed opportunity.

Some of the most recent evidence that animals do feel regret includes the brain activity of monkeys who have made a choice that results in NOT receiving a highly prized class of juice and the fact that monkeys who fail to win the prize change their strategy. Does this also apply to canines? Do dogs, for example, feel sorry when they soil or chew on the rug? Do they regret playing so roughly that nobody wants to play with them anymore?

Most scientists now agree that animals are capable of much greater emotional complexity than was previously thought. A strong, longtime proponent of this idea is biologist Marc Bekoff, whose new book, co-authored with philosopher Jessica Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals discusses the evidence that animals are complex emotional beings with high moral intelligence. The authors argue that morality is something we share with animals and that it evolves.

It seems that discussions of emotion get repeated over time with the same result: Every time the emotions of animals, including dogs, are investigated with scientific rigor, they are found to be more complex than previously thought. Animal emotions as diverse as fear, jealousy, regret, anger, love and happiness come under discussion and always it seems that increasing evidence leads to greater acceptance that these emotions exists in species beyond just our own. In fact, a great many people now consider the existence of emotions in a variety of species to be quite obvious. It seems that the ongoing investigation of emotions in other animals provides proof of Arthur Schopenhauer’s famous quote: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
 
Another great read to check out if you’re interested specifically in canine emotions is Patricia McConnell’s For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend.

 

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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