According to Dr. Andrew Schubert, author of the book “Dog Empathy: Why Do Dogs Understand What Others Are Thinking?” dogs don’t “cancel” their owner’s emotions. In other words, a dog who is very close to the emotional abuser will feel like a dog who is in a bad situation and will take steps to alleviate his discomfort.
“I think you have an emotional attachment with a partner or a pet, but a lot of people don’t realise that. I was a pet parent of two and they were never able to forgive or forget a moment of their suffering. They felt the same way. In a sense they forgot the person.”
Do dogs do anything to help people heal, such as by helping them to cope well with difficult emotions, or make them feel good?
“No, dogs don’t feel any empathy. It’s completely wrong to refer to them as ’empathetic’. They’re just a means to an end.”
Dr Alan Shepherd’s study was published in July 2014 in the Royal Society’s journal, Science.
Is it possible to know whether a dog has empathy for someone that he or she does not have empathy for?
“The best thing about empathy studies in the UK is you know exactly where they’re coming from,” Dr Schubert says. “That’s not possible with research in other countries. There is no way to know whether that might be true in countries like the US and Japan.”
“We need to start talking of dogs as ‘species’ rather than ‘people’. We need to stop saying that dogs are ‘like people’ as a label. We need to stop giving them these big labels like ’empath’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and try to think of them as ‘people’ who are very social and sensitive and may or may not be capable of empathy. But empathy is the ultimate trait.”
Does a dog feel compassion if he or she feels wronged or angry?
“I agree that dogs have emotion – but only in the abstract; they don’t have empathy. “We don’t see dogs being compassionate for other animals, or even more humane; there is no way any dog would make the same decision as someone being angry,” says Dr Schubert.
Dr Schubert believes dogs don’t show any empathy for other animals that feel hurt or sad.
“A dog who sees a sad or distressed animal may go to a very
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