Silly or Anxious? Dog Emotions and Viral Videos
Silly or Anxious? Dog Emotions and Viral Videos

Quite frequently, when someone shows me a “cute” animal video or photo on YouTube or Facebook, I don’t react appropriately. Sometimes the clips or shots are funny, but often I interpret a sadder, more anxious, or more aggressive emotion beneath the surface.

This was certainly the case with the viral “guilty dog video”. Same for many “smiling dog” clips and pics. I know nobody really thinks this is a “kiss” between the dog and dolphin, but what IS going on? I don’t have the answer; but I don’t know that it’s any cuter than it is nervewracking. Moving entirely to other species, I was not at all convinced that this lion was trying to “hug” the human (what if the cage hadn’t been there?)

Speaking of giant cats, if you saw Life Of Pi you probably remember Pi’s father warning that “When you look into [an animal’s] eyes, you see only your own emotions reflected back at you.” Yet our visual reads of emotions, thoughts, and states of mind have to be mostly right most of the time, since that’s the main way that we understand not only our dogs but also other members of our own species. Which begs the question: How can we know when our reads of another’s underlying emotions based on physical, observable cues are correct, versus when they’re mere wishful (or fearful) thinking – the product of us projecting our own emotions onto the subject?

I’ll end by linking the photo gallery that inspired me to write this post. At the risk of asking an overly serious question about a gallery intended to be silly and lighthearted: In which photos are the dogs actually thinking or feeling something along the lines of what it looks like? Some are actually appropriately described, I think. Others, obviously, not so much; but for a curious variety of reasons. To my mind, it’s good stuff to ponder, in an effort to better understand our dogs.

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