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Pets Thoughts and Emotions

Pet owners often look at their pet and wonder, ‘What is he thinking’. While there are no absolute answers in this area, some deductions can be made. Basic instincts are likely to be a major factor in a pet’s thinking. For dogs and cats, instincts, such as hunting or pack behavior, are an important part of how they interact and behave around humans and other animals. In addition to instincts, senses including sight, smell, and hearing impact how a pet views the world. Likewise relative intelligence may be a factor in their thought process. A pet owner may be able to pick up on nuances of some thoughts, yet may also be prone to misread or project thoughts from behaviors. While there are definite signs of thought and emotions, the full extent and depth is not completely clear.

Pet’s thinking is more likely driven via senses than people. They lack a full language making it unlikely that they could form thoughts like, ‘I will now take my toy and go outside to play’. It is more probable that they see/know their toy and see/know the outdoors and take action. Reliance on more than one sense may help explain why blind dogs typically adapt well to their surroundings. Pet instincts and senses are very strong affecting how they view the world and likely affect their thought patterns. For instance, hearing and smell are dramatically stronger than people’s, and they may have additional sensory abilities. Some dogs are able to warn their owner if they are going to have a seizure, or point out other medical problems such as cancer. People have yet to fully understand how this is even possible.

Another significant factor is that pets likely lack any significant ability to plan or think about the future. While this may seem obvious or basic, it does show a difference in thinking. People spend plenty of time thinking about the present and past. They plan for the future whether it is what to have for dinner tonight or where they want to live in five years. It is believed that animals live in the moment. This can be one of the things that is delightful about owning a pet, yet it also shows that many thoughts attributed to a pet are actually the person’s humanization of that animal.

People can derive thoughts and motives for their pets that may not be accurate. For instance, as a teenager our family cat would sit on a chair by the window a stare out intently. While I thought she was deep in thought, there is no way to know what if any thoughts she had. Yet there are numerous signs that owners often read their pet correctly. For instance, most people know when their pet wants to go out, eat or play. Also, a happy dog or cat is usually easy to spot. Other reactions such as fear, sadness, or anger can also be clear. Many cat owners that are snubbed after a vacation can testify that their cat can clearly show annoyance. Also many pets exhibit grief when another family pet dies. Good trainers typically are skilled in reading everyday behavioral cues that animals give which people with less experience may miss. Different animals may have different levels of thought too. This is reflected in the list of ‘smartest breed of dog’. Many pet owners can attest that their pets show signs of being intelligent or clever beyond their basic instincts. Others can conversely state that their pet is not the ‘sharpest tool in the shed’. It is the deeper understanding of thoughts and emotions that leave the most unanswered questions. (Comment courtesy of