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Can dogs empathize?

If you’ve ever been around me and dogs, you will know that I always let them lick my face. This is usually met with a lesser version of disgust (even from those I love), but that’s fine. Letting dogs lick your face raises their self esteem and enhances the trust between both of you. After finding this out, I’ve always let dogs lick my face, no matter how bad their breath.

In college, my favorite class was Evolutionary Psychology. It was, by far, the most interesting and enlightening class I had throughout my undergraduate experience. The animals closest to humans are the Bonobos which are a different species of the genus chimpanzee. Some traits are eerily similar to humans: they cry, they express different sexualities, but possibly most interestingly, they are the only species, other than homo sapiens, who engage in both “French” kissing and oral sex. Unlike {most} humans (not to reinforce any gender stereotypes), the woman is the sexual aggressor and most male Bonobos will never know if the offspring the woman is carrying is theirs. Read: the women like to sleep around. Since that class, I’ve always been enthralled with the different types of emotions that various species feel.

So, dogs. We didn’t have dogs growing up, but when I met J, he always wanted a dog (he had them consistently in his childhood). So, when we moved in together in 2010, I conceded that we could get a dog.  I’m not really sure I had a choice in the matter, but I’ll tell it like this for good measure. Above and beyond just wanting a dog, he wanted a Boxer.  Now, I don’t care what everyone else does (for the most part), but it’s not in me to buy a dog. I wanted to rescue one and wouldn’t have it any other way.  Luckily, a girl with whom J worked at Papa John’s also worked at the Humane Society and kept an eye out for any Boxer mixes that came in.  The first one we saw, we fell in love with: Zeppelin Wiggles Johnson-Doisy.  He’s the only one who carries my maiden name, so that’s super cool.  Anyway, he was the devil for the first two years of his life. He’s incredibly big and doesn’t know it, so it’s concerning to visitors and also slightly painful, at times.  They stated that he would probably get to 50-55 lbs. Currently, he’s 90 ish. Granted, he’s got some weight to lose (we’ve started him on a strict diet and exercise regime, but he takes after me with his love for food), but he would never be 55 lbs.  Having a dog was a learning experience for me, but something I’ve always been cognizant of is his uncanny ability to recognize when either J or I are upset (or both of us) and attempt to calm the situation.

So, yes, I think dogs can empathize, and so do other studies outside of the Johnson-Doisy household.  That being said, the emotions that they feel do not exceed a human’s emotional ability at 2.5 or so…. they tap out at feeling: love, shyness, joy, anger, fear, disgust, contentment, distress, and excitement.  It’s interesting to learn about and good research for having a tiny human.  Humans don’t get the common emotions contempt, guilt, pride, and shame until after 2.5. I often wonder if these are all learned emotions rather than something that’s ingrained in a person, but who knows?!

Now feels like a good time to recognize that I love the Oxford comma. I don’t know why it’s such a point of contention, either.

Cheers & love.

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