For more from Dr. Ernie Ward, find him on Facebook or at www.drernieward.com.
I recently got a bad haircut. I was embarrassed. In fact, it happened the day before I had to emcee a (very) well-attended charity event. I wasn’t happy but I soldiered on, blushing the entire night.
The reason I mention this is because of a complaint I heard from a client recently. She had taken her dog to her groomer (not one of ours, thankfully) and reported that her dog’s hair was cut so short her pooch acted embarrassed. She shared how her dog ran inside from the car and immediately hid under the bed after her “bad haircut.” She wouldn’t come out for several hours, even when her husband came home and offered her a treat. Do dogs get embarrassed if they have a “bad hair” day? I’d never really given it much thought.
Turns out some canine behavior researchers have. Dr. Marc Bekoff, a former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado and author of “The Emotional Lives of Animals,” has observed dogs for thousands of hours in his career. He concludes that dogs do have feelings of “embarrassment, shyness and humiliation.” Another researcher, neurobiologist Dr. Frederick Range at the University of Vienna, agrees. His studies demonstrate that dogs have other secondary emotions such as “jealousy, guilt and empathy.” I’m guessing Markoff and Range would definitely agree with my client that her close-cropped canine was most certainly “embarrassed.”
Not every animal behavior expert agrees. In fact, most say researchers such as Markoff and Range are missing a few synapses when they talk about dogs having complex emotions such as embarrassment (you don’t want to know what they say about me). The traditional notion is dogs only experience “instant-reaction” emotions such as fear, joy, sadness and anger. Established thought would state embarrassment is far beyond the emotional reach of dogs. I’d love for them to meet my menagerie and still believe that. Not only do I believe my dogs feel secondary emotions, they’re also capable of being downright silly. Study that, superstar know-it-all experts.
In my own experience posing as “Santa Paws” for nineteen years and witnessing an almost endless parade of dressed-up and dolled-up dogs and cats, I can tell you some pets are clearly unhappy with what mom and dad are doing to them. These pets I’ve seen since baby teeth days suddenly act very strangely when a pair of faux antlers is perched atop their heads. They dive for cover, bolt out of the room or cover their face. Some even turn nasty. Let me tell you, most dogs and cats aren’t as fond as you are of those little elf costumes and Santa hats.
At the other end of the spectrum are the ham-it-up-hounds. These dogs L-O-V-E to dress up and prance around. They’re the Lady GaGa’s of the canine culture without the other odd behaviors (Can you say “meat dress?” Lady Gaga can.). That’s another study for our big-shot experts to ponder.
I believe most of us intuitively understand that dogs and cats have feelings. To me, those feelings include some form of embarrassment. So talk to your groomer (or barber) and give them details on exactly what your dog (or yourself) wants from the next haircut. If your dog (or you) gets embarrassed, you have no one to blame but yourself. Just don’t get a haircut the day before a big event. And please toss out those tiny antlers…
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.