Human and Animal Bond 

Certified Senior Master Handler Cpl. Keith Hicks.


From my studies and experiences working with animals, canines, in particular, I would most definitely say, animals do show emotion. Now, does every animal show an emotion? I do not know for I have not personally seen or worked with every animal, but the ones I have encountered have expressed some form of emotion or another. Animals can express a wide range of emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety.

            For example, some canids will use their entire body to express how happy they are when their owner comes home from being gone. An example of what this would look like would be head up, ears back and up, tail wagging rapidly side to side, and the back hips usually swaying back and forth sometimes exaggerated so much it’s as if the animal can bend its body in the full shape of a “U”. Their mouth can be seen open and tongue hanging out almost giving their mouth an appearance as if they are smiling.

            When it comes to anger, I have personally been on the wrong end of a very upset cow moose. As an early teenager, I was fortunate enough to spend several years in Alaska with my father who was in the military. I was about to walk outside when I saw a cow moose with her yearling calf walking through my front yard grazing. Me as a teenager and not always thinking before acting I grabbed my camera and decided to follow the two moose to take photos. Everything was fine until I got too close and the calf became curious of me somehow, I managed to get in between the mother and calf. It was at that time I heard the cow moose begin to give a series of low grunts. Her head was lowered, ears back, and eyes fixed on me. I knew that I made the mistake and needed to get out of the situation as fast as I could. She continued to give more grunts as the hair on her back and neck stood up. As I tried to move away, she began to charge. I turned to run and when I observed a truck close to me and I dove under it to get out of the way of the angry mother moose. She began kicking the truck for what felt like hours but was only a few minutes until she felt I was not going to bother her or her calf again. The two moose then moved on through the neighborhood and I ran home, and I’ll never forget the rage in her eyes.

            Canines and humans have been together for so long now that they tend to share similar emotions such as fear and anxiety. Some things are brought on through bad experiences such as an abusive owner causing the animal to cower in a corner when someone begins to yell at them. Others are brought out from random events like gunfire or thunder during a storm. I have an American Bulldog who is going on thirteen years old now and since the time I got her at eight weeks old, she has always had an issue with any kind of loud noise such as thunder, gunshots, or even a car backfire. When any of these things take place, she immediately begins to look up at the window as if whatever the noise was, is right outside. Her ears and head drop while she lowers her body to the ground and beings to pant heavily. Her entire body begins to shake almost as if she is having a seizure. She becomes nonresponsive to human commands and seeks out the darkest place in the house usually the bathtub. She will stay in this state for anywhere from 1-4 hours after the noise has ceased.

            Animals that do not show emotions are like humans in the fact that it could be their biology or makeup. Marc Bekoff writes that science has discovered certain mice that get abused by the other mice in the cage will shut down and become non-social just like humans do who have gone through an abusive situation will cause them to lack emotion. The chapter goes on to describe suicidal rats who have a condition called toxoplasmosis which will cause the rat to have a suicidal attraction to cats. They have treated the rats with haloperidol, which is used to control schizophrenia and causes the attraction to cats to decrease.

            These two rodent species share the same type of mental disorders that humans do which suggest that we share similar neural underpinnings to their emotions and probably similar feelings. If the medicines used to treat humans for certain mental disorders also treat rats and mice than there must be some type of emotional connection between humans and animals (Marc Bekoff). If rats and mice are capable of having similar mental disorders as humans, then what is to say that other animals don’t have the same disorders as well. It is just easier to study the rats and mice because they are small and easy to maintain in cages.

            For the most part, humans are constantly showing emotion every day. Depending on the type of day they are having humans will go through a wide range of emotions in a single day from happiness and joy to sadness and crying. Humans even have unwritten rules between the sexes on expressing their emotions. The well-known one would be for young boys and even teenage boys is that crying is not allowed. You will hear it at parks, malls, and any outdoor activities when a young male gets hurt for whatever reason and begins to cry, usually the child’s father will shout something along the lines of “shake it off, boys don’t cry” or “get up, tough boys don’t cry.” Fathers do this not to belittle their son but to let them know that they will be fine and there is no need to cry even though it hurts.

            Because of this type of upbringing boys are expected to be tough and not show certain emotion such as sadness. Females, on the other hand, are well known for the emotional roller coasters they go through. A lot of it has to do with their hormones that can play a big role in how they feel throughout the day. I have seen a woman wake up happy, switch to sad by midday, jump to anger, and finish happy by the end of the day. Women also go through a wide range of emotions during their menstrual cycle which can wreak havoc on them and anyone around them. Pregnancy also brings out a lot of emotions in a woman who can be laughing about a memory one second and crying about the same story the next second.

            An example of an emotional rollercoaster for a female could happen during a break-up of the relationship. She will be sad for a period of time, sobbing alone or with a close friend. Then after a while, it will turn to anger, possibly destroying items that remind her of him. She will eventually be happy again and start a new relationship. For men it’s a little different, they tend to deal with their emotion in a different way which can cause them to get over a break-up faster. Men will go through a period of sadness but to look tough in front of their friends they hide the sadness. Instead of thinking about the other person they keep themselves busy with hanging out with friends and not being alone very often. This allows them to get over the sad times faster and move on.

            There is a saying among humans that goes like “I wear my heart on my sleeve.” This saying describes a person who openly shows their feelings or emotion to everything that is going on in their life instead of hiding them. They do not try and hide how they feel, and they do not care who sees it. If they are happy, they will express their emotion with a big smile or laughter. If something upsets them, they tend to lash out in anger with their eyes squinted, brows together, and with a lower tone in their voice.

            Human emotions can be triggered by several things from the birth of a child to the death of a parent. As humans go about their day, they will experience numerous types of emotions good ones and bad ones. Emotions are a part of everyday life and are shared among each other.

Play and Morals

When you hear the word moral most people refer to it as knowing the difference between right and wrong. In fact, the definition if moral is; concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character. The definition is based on human character and no one ever considers if animals too have morals that they abide by. Animals, like humans, have morals and they can be seen if only taken the time to observe them in their environments.

                  Human morals focus on what is right from wrong and what is acceptable and what is not. We have laws to enforce these morals and punishments for those who choose to break those laws. Some of our everyday day morals include lying, cheating, and stealing. Human morals cover a vast expanse on how we should live our lives and how we should treat others, such as not hurting or killing another person or helping ones in need. You turn on the news nowadays and mostly see negativity and politics, but every now and then they report amazing stories about humans helping humans. I recently read a story about a man who just purchased a set of cabinets from a small shop. Once he got the cabinets home, he began the install and located a small envelope taped to the back. As he opened the envelope, he discovered a large sum of cash. He made the moral decision not to keep the money and called the shop where he purchased the cabinet. It turned out that the owner of the store had recently passed away and the money attached to the cabinet was left for his family in case something ever happened to him.

                  I think the reason humans can not relate morals to animals the same way humans do to each other is that animals are different from us. Animals may not have as many morals as humans do, but I believe to some extent that they do know right from wrong. Animals do have morals, but you must pay attention to them in order to see them in action. Canines, for example, know if they went too far during play and will perform a play bow as if to offer an apology for biting too hard and upsetting the other member. The bow will signal the other canine that they did not mean to bite that hard and they wish to continue to play.

In Marc Bekoff’s book, The Emotional Lives of Animals he describes a pack of wolves who engage in play. A more dominant wolf will “handicap” themselves by engaging in a role reversal with lower ranking wolves. They will show submission and even allow the lower wolf to bite them providing that it’s not too hard. Wolves live in tight-knit social groups that are regulated by strict rules. If a pack grows too large, they are not able to bond closely enough, and the pack will disband into smaller separate packs. The alpha wolf and his pack will retain their territory while the new pack(s) will be forced to leave the area and find their own.

                  Marc Bekoff writes, morals are “hard-wired” into the brains of all mammals and provide the “social glue” that allows often aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups. He has shown how different species of animals appear to have an innate sense of fairness, display empathy and help other animals that are in distress. (Wild Justice, Bekoff).

                  Elephants are another animal that is intensely social and emotional. Elephants experience compassion and there is evidence of elephants helping injured or sick members of their herd as well as other species of animals who are in need of help. Iain Hamilton studied a herd of elephants and discovered a matriarch known as Elanor who fell ill. Another female in the herd tried to help Elanor back to her feet and even stayed with Elanor until she passed away. Hamilton also observed a group of elephants in 2003 rescue antelope who were being held inside an enclosure in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He observed the matriarch unfasten all the metal latches holding the gates closed and swung the entrance open allowing the antelope to escape. This sort of compassion is rare among different species of animals and was previously thought to be the exclusive preserve of mankind only.

                  While watching an animal documentary I came across a story being told by whale biologist Nan Houser who was snorkeling with a humpback whale. She described the encounter as peaceful at first but then the whale began pushing her up toward the surface with its head and even out of the water at one point with its back. Nan stated this lasted for about ten minutes and it wasn’t until she was able to get back under the whale, she realized a second whale was attempting to chase away a tiger shark that had been following the group. Nan stated at one point it was as if the whale was hiding her under its pectoral fin. This behavior is what leads scientist to believe that animals do have a moral compass to protect other their species as well as others.

                  My last example of animals with a moral code would be chimpanzees. They are among the most cognitively advanced apes in the primate kingdom. There is a chimp named knuckles that lives in the Center for Great Apes in Florida. Knuckles is a special chimp because he is the only known chimpanzee to suffer from cerebral palsy. A scientist who is studying knuckles found that the other chimps in his group treat him differently and he is rarely subjected to intimidation displays of aggression from older males. They also found that chimpanzees will demonstrate a sense of social justice, and those chimpanzees who deviate from the code of conduct of the group are attacked by other members as punishment for picking on Knuckles. The elders in the group have made it clear that it is morally wrong to pick on a member who cannot defend themselves and will punish anyone who does.

There are many more examples out there to show that animals do indeed have morals within their species. Some species have demonstrated the moral will to help fellow species when they are in trouble. Some animal’s morality can be compared to that of a firefighter or police officer that will run headfirst into danger to save someone they do not know. It’s easy to dismiss the claims that animals have morals just because they are animals, but if taken the time to learn and study these wondrous creatures it’s hard to argue that they do not. Humans and animals are both emotional and moral creatures. We can learn a lot from animals if we simply take the time to understand them and get to know them. If we as humans could come together to put an end to poaching and allow animals to live their lives as nature and God intended, we would be overwhelmed with the amount of information we could learn from them.