Dogs are not just pets - they are truly family members. They share the day-to-day events of our lives with us. They greet us, play with us, make us our better selves and give us comfort when we are safe. Just the presence of our dogs helps us to ease our burdens by lowering our blood pressure and lessening our anxieties.
If you have ever found your dog providing you with empathy in those moments in which you were sad, this is not a figment of your imagination. Your dog is as much an emotional companion as a physical friend.
Signs that Your Dog can Tell When You are Crying
Your dog has the capacities to pay attention to your cues and to understand your feelings. In turn, you have a responsibility to pay attention to cues to the body signals that your dog is sending you. Just as our reactions are evident in our posture, face, and voice, your dog is sending you signals with body language.
The meaning of the cues become clear when we consider the context and the personality of your dog. Your dog has many ways of showing you love, and a bond comes from a shared strong relationship.
Your dog will show love for you in many ways. Dogs will show appeasement and deference out of respect. These sentiments are signaled by soft eyes, blinking, and looking away.
If you see your dog yawning, this does not mean the dog is bored with you or needing a nap. It is a sign of comfort and wanting to be in your favor. Your dog may stare at you as a signal of desire. If your dog has high energy, you may have greetings in which your dog jumps on you, cries, and licks you. Some dogs will follow their owners around to show affection and attachment.
Because dogs are so close to us, they know more things about us than we may know. For instance, they can tell when you are emitting hormones associated with fear, sadness, or distress. Chemicals and hormones are released when you cry, which will likely signal to your pup that something isn't quite right.
They will also notice your change in body posture, and they will definitely react to any whimpers or cries that you make. Your dog will seek to comfort you in any way that they can. Dogs are also master mimickers, and may copy your sad behavior to show they are in tune with your sadness.
The History of Dogs Knowing When We Cry
Believe it or not, mammals share in many DNA characteristics. Dogs have 84% of the human DNA. Researchers think that dogs and humans share genes to be social. Some believe that the social gene developed through the evolution of the dog to become a domesticated animal. Others believe that the social proclivities to be friendly were present in the early wolf. Genes are important, but how they are manifested is often related to the environment and the role of experience in their expression.
Philosophers through the ages have posited that humans are set apart from other creatures because of our intelligence and sense of consciousness. Love can be metaphysical. There are also physiological signals of emotions that are shared across species. For example, oxytocin is known as the hormone of love. We strengthen attachment through touch. Petting your dog can raise the oxytocin in the dog.
Dogs respond to the sound of their owner's voice. Pups, in particular, are attracted to invitational voices. Studies of the wolf and dog have repeatedly demonstrated that they pick up on facial cues in their own species and with humans. The centuries-long relationship between human and canine had been forged from the capacity of the animal to be tolerant of others, to pay attention to social cues and to respond to signals in appropriate ways. The predisposition of the dog to be social is a central ingredient to the emotional bond we share.
The Science of Dogs Knowing When We are Crying
Scientists are proving that dogs can discriminate happy and angry emotions. In a recent study, dogs were divided into two groups. One group was trained to recognize happy facial expressions with treats. The other group was trained to recognize angry faces.
The scientists then showed the dogs faces that were divided so they only saw half of the familiar faces and half new faces. The dogs were 70% accurate in identifying the correct emotions. Not only did they recognize the emotions on the faces with which they were trained, they could generalize their understanding of the facial cues to unfamiliar faces.
The researchers believe that dogs do learn human facial cues and emotions and then, are able to apply that learning to new situations. This is new insight into the cognitive capacities of the dog.
In another study, 17 untrained dogs were shown faces of dogs and people with different emotional expressions. They then played vocalizations of the emotions. The dogs observed faces that matched the vocalizations and faces that did not match the vocalization. The dogs paid more attention to the faces when the vocalizations matched the emotion of the face. The researchers interpreted the finding as indicating that dogs have a cognitive understanding of emotions.
In another study, the researchers wanted to know if dogs would respond to crying. The researcher went to the home of the dog and owner. The owner and researcher took turns making crying sounds and humming sounds. The dogs consistently went to the person who was crying. It did not matter if the person was the owner or the visiting researcher.
When the dogs approached the crying person, they did so with submissive behavior. The tails were tucked and the heads were bowed in gestures of empathy. We do not know for certain if the dog was offering comfort or if the dogs had learned they will get petted when they go to the human when they make a crying noise.
The evidence is mounting that dogs can differentiate human emotions and offer appropriate behavioral responses to us when we are in our time of need.
Training Your Dog to Respond When You Cry
It is estimated that one in five Americans suffers from emotional distress. A service dog helps someone with a physical disability and they are trained to perform tasks. An emotional support dog is trained to provide comfort. They are not service animals. They are trained to have the qualities of being calm, allowing other to pet and to provide emotional support.
If you want your dog to be a comfort to you or others, begin by considering the breed and disposition of the dog. Some breeds are more suitable for comfort than others. The breeds considered to be more appropriate for emotional support include:
- Clumber Spaniel
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Basset Hound
- French Bulldog
Training starts as a puppy with good socialization. The pup should have appropriate time with the mother, about 7 weeks. The humans need to provide the pups with lots of handling and exposures to sounds, sights, and different situations.
Good training will include learning the basic obedience commands, "Sit", "Stay", "Come", "Down", and "Heel".
Comfort dogs need to learn the three D's:
Duration - This means the dog will hold a position upon command. Start with training your dog to stay in place for 3 seconds. This prepares the dog to hold still for others to pet and be near to the animal.
Distance - Teach your dog to stay in control when you step away but remain in the area. Begin by stepping away, one step at a time while the dog stays. Reward your dog when you step back over to the dog.
Distractions - Add distractions. When your dog is providing comfort, there will be sounds, movements, and distractions. Teach your dog to stay in place even in the presence of distractions by slowly creating distractions.
Once your dog has these basic skills, you can teach your dog your signals for your experience of distress. For example, if you want the dog to comfort you when you are crying, teach your dog to come to you. Make the crying sound and reward the dog for coming to you.
Or, you may have warning signals. Perhaps you can tell when you are feeling anxious by the experience of shortness of breath. Teach your dog to come to you to the cue of shortness in breathing. Be consistent and patient.
By a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake
Published: 06/04/2018, edited: 04/06/2020