You, dogs and cats (and other mammals for that matter) have the same core emotion systems in our brains. These systems reside in the lower parts of the brain and evoke feelings whose basic, most elemental purpose is to tell us when something is good for our survival or may be hazardous to survival. These emotions are demonstrable and identifiable as they “generate well-organized behavior sequences that can be evoked by localized electrical stimulation of the brain.” (From Affective Neruoscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, by Jaak Panksepp)
I first read about these core emotions from the work of the neuroscientist, Dr. Jaak Panksepp, written about by Temple Grandin in her book, “Animals Make Us Human.”
The reason I introduced the core emotions in episode 74 of the Raising Your Paws podcast ( that you can hear below) and am excited to share this with you here, is that Temple Grandin (an important champion of animal welfare,) offers a simple rule about the emotions that you and I can follow to help our dogs and cats have better mental health. It’s about encouraging your pets to feel and experience the positive ones and try to reduce or eliminate the negative ones.
Here is the list of the seven core emotion systems that we share with our pets. The names are capitalized because Dr. Panksepp, wanted to differentiate them from the regular use of the same words – that may not refer to the emotional systems that are traceable within the brain. Since we can’t ask our pets how they feel, after the core emotion, I’ll list the word Dr. Panksepp used that generally describes the feeling that gets generated in us that you will easily recognize. You will recall times your pet acted in this way showing thier feelings.
SEEKING – feeling is enthusiatic.
PLAY – feeling is joyous.
RAGE- feeling is pissed off, angry.
FEAR – feeling is anxious, fright, frustration.
GRIEF/PANIC – feeling is lonely, sad.
CARE – feeling is loving and tender.
LUST – feeling is horny, sexually desiring.
The first five of these emotion systems are the ones that we are going to focus on.
In Temple Grandin’s words – here is the rule to create good mental welfare for them.
“Don’t stimulate RAGE, FEAR, and GRIEF/PANIC if you can help it, and do stimulate SEEKING and also PLAY.” (From “Animals Make Us Human)
Sounds simple enough right? But how do you do it?
In the upcoming podcast episodes, I’ll pick one of the 5 core emotion systems to talk about, explain how it works and give you suggestions for what you can do to get your pet feeling more of the good ones and less of the icky ones.
And, since I’m talking about the same core emotion systems we have, this could lead to some fascinating discussions.
I’ll start with SEEKING in the next show – episode 75.