Emotional Complexity of Animals


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times) Love brings with it so much pain that I don’t know why we bother – the ache of separation, the anxiety of a loved one’s safety, guilt, shame, pride, sacrifice and above all , maddening jealousy.

Are we the only species that feel jealousy ? Obviously not since every species feels love and all jealousy is at its heart related to the real or anticipated loss of love and attention. My sister befriended a lovely young woman named Chinky many years ago. Her army husband had been sent to Sri Lanka during the nonsensical intervention we made there. He had asthma and she was told by someone that my mother had the same drugs he needed which, in those days, had to be imported. She came to our door for the medicine and stayed to become a friend. She had adopted a monkey – she found him with one arm cut off, rushed him to a vet and saved his life. She nursed him and he became her second child. Her husband returned. The monkey was so jealous that he would bang on doors and sit on the bed and growl if the husband came near. Finally, the idiot of a husband gave her a choice – the monkey or me. She was so infuriated at having to make this asinine choice that she chose the monkey. The husband moved out and took his small son, sued for divorce, the monkey died and Chinky committed suicide.

A study of 1000 domestic animal owners done by University of Portsmouth psychologist Dr Paul Morris and Christine Doe show that dogs also act as 'uninvited chaperones' between couples sharing romantic moments.

Dr Morris said dog owners showed 'remarkable consistency' in reporting jealous behaviour. He said dogs felt intense pangs of jealousy and animosity when in a 'love triangle' involving the carer and another person or animal. Canines do not like their owners offering affection to other creatures, especially dogs, and react negatively when their owners bring home new partners, the research found.

While scientists accept that dogs, cats, horses and other non-primate animals experience primary emotions such as anger, anxiety and surprise, secondary emotions such as jealousy, pride, embarrassment and shame are considered to be the exclusive domain of humans and perhaps chimpanzees as scientists say intelligence is needed to support the complex range of secondary emotions.

Obviously this is rubbish. A primary emotion like love is a combination of so many secondary emotions. I work with animals and I see every kind of feeling in chickens, parrots, pigeons, rats and frogs, mongooses and lizards. An animal that feels fear obviously has a strong sense of self. Fear is a mixture of so many secondary emotions : loss of pride, regret, a need for help, hopelessness. Joy, sadness, regret, elation, jealousy, envy – I am sure you will find it in flies as well.

 Dr Morris’ study investigated evidence for a wide range of emotions including jealousy, pride and guilt in domestic animals including rabbits, sheep, cows, cats, pigs, horses, rabbits, hamsters and dogs and found they exist across the board. The data clearly suggest that animals have rich emotional lives. Dr Morris presented his paper 'Proud Horses and Jealous Dogs: Evidence for Secondary Emotions in Non-Primate Species' at the BA Festival of Science  in which UK’s top scientists discuss new developments in science.

 Dr Friederike Range, of the University of Vienna's neurobiology department, has presented a paper to the National Academy of Sciences showing that dogs feel very upset when they spot that they are unfairly treated. "Dogs show a strong aversion to inequity," she said. “Animals are far more self-aware and emotionally complex than was thought. “ Dogs have an understanding of fair play and become resentful if they feel that another dog is getting a better deal.

She and her colleagues did a series of experiments with dogs who knew how to respond to the command "give the paw," or shake. The dogs were happy to repeatedly give the paw, whether they got a reward or not. But that changed if they saw that another dog was being rewarded with a piece of food, while they received nothing. "We found that the dogs hesitated significantly longer when obeying the command to give the paw," the researchers write. The unrewarded dogs eventually stopped cooperating. They wanted the same reward for the same work .Scientists have long known that humans pay close attention to inequity. Even little children are quick to yell "Not fair!" But researchers always assumed that animals didn't share this trait.

Monkeys feel the same. In 2003  Frans de Waal, a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta did a study on monkeys. Monkeys had to hand a stone to researchers to get food in return. Monkeys were happy to do this to get a piece of cucumber. But they would be insulted to be offered cucumber if they saw that another monkey was getting a better reward, a grape, for doing the same job. "The one who got cucumber became very agitated, threw out the food, and the stone and just stopped performing," says de Waal.

Animals have personalities as well as emotions. After any length of time spent with a certain animal, their wants and emotions will be conveyed in one way or another. Is your dog happy to see you come home after a long day? Can you tell if your pet is scared? If you throw a ball, will your pet bring it back to be thrown again and retrieved? Can you tell when your pet needs to go out for his ‘daily’? If you said yes to any of these then your pet is displaying emotion.

Most dog and cat owners don't need a study to tell them that their pets are capable of feeling complex emotions.. Maurice Melzak, editor of Petstreet,  says his dog Roxy demonstrates guilt. Once, when Melzak found empty food wrappers on the kitchen counter and asked who did it, "immediately Roxy's tail went between her legs, she had this really sheepish expression on her face, and she went to skulk on the stairs. She knew she wasn't meant to do that."

If cat owners give a new baby more attention, cats will sleep on the baby furniture and certainly sit far more on the owner’s lap than he used to.

If the owner has two dogs, and when someone pays attention to one of them, the other has to stick her nose in literally too.  Two cats push each other away while trying to get closest to their owner.  Dogs growl at new boyfriends or tug on his pant leg.

Emotion is a hard thing to measure, whether of human or animal. Scientists may fail to take account of what seems obvious to the rest of us. And in the area of allowing themselves to believe that animals are the same as us , they are perhaps even more hesitant because it would mean that humans eating or using animals are wrong or even worse, cannibalistic.

Marc Bekoff, professor of biology at the University of Colorado and co-founder of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies says, “Their hearts and stomachs and brains also differ from ours, but this doesn’t stop us from saying they have hearts, stomachs and brains. There’s dog joy and chimpanzee joy and pig joy, and dog grief, chimpanzee grief and pig grief. If we feel jealousy, then dogs, wolves, elephants, and chimpanzees feel jealousy. “


To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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