Glencadia Blog

Life in the country... with lots of dogs

Mood transfer in dogs (and other critters, like people)

We often say “dogs are social animals” around here — it’s a truism basic to our philosophy of dog care. However, all animals are at sometimes social. Even famous loners like orangutangs and sloths have to be with others to mate and nurse young. Cats seem to be perfectly capable of living in a community, even when they are feral in the street. The “social” versus “loner” distinction are two poles on a continuum, rather than categorical and discrete identifiers.

Still, dogs like to be other dogs almost all the time, seems like. As highly social animals, they must be able to find ways to communicate and adapt to the others in the group. Hierarchy and displays of power are certainly part of it but they clearly have various techniques to convey their mood or feelings with one another. They communicate their moods even when they cannot see each other. Obviously, a dog barking or howling will unsettle another dog on the other side of a wall but even the sound of pacing or heavy breathing seems to rattle another dog who cannot see the nervous or upset dog.

Conversely, when dogs are comfortable and content, they can convey this sentiment through a wall or without making much or any noise or showing any evidence of their state of mind. I see this in the van when I pick the dogs up. If there are three mellow, calm, dogs practically asleep and a fourth one who is nervous or upset gets in the van, the new arrival will settle down and become calmer in most cases.

I try to use this system of communication to help nervous or upset dogs by creating a critical mass of “calm” around a high strung dog.

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