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Can dogs feel emotion? Brutus the Rottweiler mourns death of his brother

A rescued Rottweiler named Brutus refuses to leave his brother's side after he died in the night. Are dogs truly capable of emotion?

In a video that was recently posted to YouTube, a rescued Rottweiler named Brutus lays next to his brother, Hank, who passed away during the night. When the owner, who posted the video under the username ‘Brettvett1,’ tried to coax Brutus to get up, the dog refused to leave his brother’s side.

The video has already received 300,000 views, and it is no surprise: The level of heartbreak apparent in Brutus’ eyes is enough to make anyone empathize with the pain of losing a loved one. Brettvett1 posted on his YouTube channel:

“Brutus does not want to leave him and will not budge, laying on top of his head. Brutus has never whined or cried out in pain the two years I have had him . . . But clearly you can see in his eyes, he is crying for his brother who had passed as his world around him just crumbled. We both grieve and cry for our brother. This is proof that animals do have emotions and feel pain just like we do.”

Dogs have long been called “man’s best friend,” with their uncanny ability to read emotion and seemingly feel right alongside their human counterparts. We are drawn to dogs for their human-like qualities, as evidenced by their presence in everything from puppy Super Bowl ads to viral YouTube videos, such as that of a dog’s overwhelming joy upon being reunited with his owner. After serving overseas for six months, the owner embraced his dog as best friend whined, yipped, and melted into his arms in a video that received over 13 million views.

Do animals feel emotion like humans? From their joyous yips to protective growls to heartbreaking tears, it would seem that they do. However, the idea that dogs experience emotion the same way humans do has been a topic of controversy.

For a long time, scientists and philosophers such as René Descartes and Nicholas de Malebranche argued that animals were simply programmed to respond in certain ways, not capable of actual emotion. Malebranche claimed that animals “eat without pleasure, cry without pain, act without knowing it: they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing.”

With the development of modern science, we now know that dogs' brains are more complex than once thought. But to assume that dogs experience the same level of emotions as humans is not supported by studies, according to Modern Dog Magazine. Humans develop emotion as they age, which explains why infants experience a much smaller range of emotions than an adult. Researchers have determined that dogs have about the same emotional range as a two to two-and-a-half year old, according to Psychology Today. Dogs possess all basic emotions, such as fear, anger, joy, disgust, and love. The more complex emotions—guilt, pride, and shame—cannot be felt by dogs.

Cesar Millan, the dog trainer from the popular TV show Dog Whisperer, tells his followers that it is important for owners to understand their dogs’ emotional states, because they do indeed feel. In some ways, their emotions are even more powerful due to their simplicity.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that dogs have emotions. They feel joy after a job well done. They feel sad when a pack member passes away. And they feel love for their family members—their pack,” Millan said on his website. “It’s important to remember that those emotions are different from our own. The feelings that dogs experience aren’t connected to complex thoughts. They don’t have ulterior motives or doubt. Their emotions are pure and honest.”

[Editor's note: It has been reported that the dogs' owner, Brett Bennett, posts videos of his dogs to YouTube for personal fundraising, the purpose and authenticity of which has been called into question.]

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