Can dogs have bad days?

This past week Reggie had a bump on his lower eye lid removed which meant he had to wear the cone of shame for 10 days until the stitches dissolved. The first day was rough- he banged into just about everything. But dogs are resilient and he found his way, or rather banging into things just became the norm.

However, by day six things seemed to shift. He seemed cranky. He was snappish. He growled at me when I asked him to move. He snapped at a friend who was playing catch with him. He growled at me again when I was petting him. Reggie is a curler, meaning he likes to sleep curled up rather than flat on his side. With the cone, sleeping curled up in his bed wasn’t possible. He slept in my bed flat on his side.

Was Reggie having a bad day on day six? Is that possible for dogs? It certainly seems plausible. Reggie wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t getting restful or an appropriate amount of sleep. Science and biology would dictate that sleep is important and not getting enough can adversely affect one’s health.

Dog Brain

Dog Brain

The dog brain, structurally, is almost exactly the same as the human brain. Parts of the brain like the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, thalamus, hypothalamus, and pituitary glands are all areas we have in common. The depths of emotion that a dog can feel we explored a little (Does my dog love me?). But what about things like self-awareness, discomfort, headaches, and perception of pain?

Dogs obviously can’t tell us how they feel, and there are even some sound theories that dogs are quite good at concealing their discomfort or pain. From an evolutionary standpoint this makes sense; if a dog appears weak or injured they would be more susceptible to a predator, as prey.

I once again refer to the dog brain research in Dog Sense. I cannot say it any differently so,

…most emotions appear to arise in parts of the midbrain, which is connected to the  spinal cord through the hindbrain and, in mammals, is almost completely encased inside the much larger forebrain, the “thinking” part of the brain. Two structures in the midbrain that are key to the generation of many emotions are the hypothalamus and the amygdalae, but these structures are also engaged in other functions, such as hunger, thirst, the sleep-wake cycle, and learning. (162)

The amygdalae is responsible for forming and retrieving memories of frightening events, and also generating the response to them. The hypothalamus is responsible for relaying information back and forth from the brain to hormone producing areas like the adrenal glands, which would release adrenaline in a fight-or-flight fear response. Sleep, or rather the lack of, depletes your serotonin levels. Serotonin is the happy hormone. And exercise releases endorphins- we’ve all heard that before right? Same for dogs- same part of the mammal brain. Exercise makes you happy (sorry it’s true). Take your dog for a walk!

What is the point in all of this scientific babble? While the human brain is more complex than the dog brain, with around 20 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex of the human brain and 160 million in the dog brain (300 million for cats, you cat lovers), the function and structure is essentially the same. This means that the information processing, reactions, and emotions are the same as ours- albeit less sophisticated. So it is reasonable to assume that the neurological connections, emotional and biological responses, and hormonal reactions are the same as ours- again to the degree of complexity of the development of the dog cerebral cortex.

So was Reggie experiencing…frustration? As a mammal with a disturbed sleep-wake cycle, a lack of adequate water intake, and restricted levels of physical activity he would have had reduced levels of serotonin and endorphins, and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So one can deduce that, yes, Reggie was cranky.

In other words, dogs can have bad days.

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