Can Dogs Tell if You're Sad?

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Dogs have been man's best friend for thousands of years. They can make us laugh, give us kisses when we're sad, and make us go outside for exercise even if we sometimes don't want to. It seems like our furry friends are always there for us when we're feeling down, and they know exactly what to do when we're upset - maybe it's a kiss, a cuddle, or just, plain being there when they need them. But many of us have wondered as owners if our dogs really can tell when we're sad or upset. 

Well, it turns out that after so much time being around humans, dogs really can tell when we're sad, as well as a ton of other emotions! So, the next time your dog gives you a cuddle or a kiss while you're crying, know that it actually is because they can tell that you're sad, and they're doing everything in their power to make you feel better! 

In short, owning a pupper or woofer can actually help you live a better, happier, healthier life!

Introduction of Can Dogs Tell if You're Sad?

Signs Your Doggo Knows You're Unhappy

Over 40 million adults in the United States between the ages of 18 and 45 are affected with and diagnosed with a mental disease or disorder, including depression and anxiety. And that doesn't count general sadness, as every human has felt sadness in their lives at some point or another. 

Regardless of the reason behind it, puppers really can help us feel better. There are tons of amazing stories out there of dogs helping out their owners in times of need, and that's because they are attuned to our emotions after hundreds of years of evolving alongside us.

Behaviors and physical characteristics that show our dogs understand unhappiness is our pups may act submissive and may approach a crying owner with a tucked tail and bowed heads. This not only shows subjection, in that your dog wants you to know that you're still the alpha, but also shows empathy. They may lick the tears on your face, showering you with kisses - that's not only a show of love and affection, but also a way to clean up your face (even though it may be a little dirtier than tissues!)

Dogs that know that you're unhappy will often act unhappy themselves. Symptoms that show unhappiness in our pups may also include changes in appetite and sleep schedule. Dogs evolving with us has not only allowed them to understand or at least recognize our emotions, but also has lead to them being able to mirror them in certain ways. 

Depressed humans and depressed pups will sleep at different times and have different eating schedules. They, like us, may also stop doing things that they usually like to do, like take walks or play. Additionally, they may also exhibit specific behaviors that show their discomfort, like pacing or crying and whimpering. Uncomfortable woofers often lick their paws frequently or may be destructive, i.e. going through the trash and tearing up their toys or your shoes! 

Basically, because your dog understands your emotions, they'll often act sad when you are. They may also try to comfort you however they can, so if you have a super affectionate pup on your hands, it may be because they realize that you're upset!

Body Language

Some cues your pooch will give you when they know you are upset include:
  • Alert
  • Whining
  • Pacing
  • Low tail carriage
  • Whimpering
  • Stomach flip
  • Ears back
  • Sleepiness

Other Signs

A few other signs to watch out for are:
  • Slobbery kisses
  • Demanding attention
  • Jumping up on you
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Cuddling or smooshing you
  • Acting sad themselves

The History Behind Dogs Understanding Your Sadness

History of Can Dogs Tell if You're Sad?
The fact that emotional dogs exist and have in the past is proof that doggos really can tell what we're feeling, and can help us overcome depression or bouts of sadness. Emotional support and service puppers have been around since way back in Ancient Egypt. 

Florence Nightingale, a famous nurse from the civil war, once wrote that "a small pet is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially." As a result, dogs have been brought to hospitals, nursing homes, and other places that are normally associated with sadness or depression for years. Turns out even our ancestors realized that pups can sometimes be the best answer for sadness!

The Science Behind Doggos and Sadness

Science of Can Dogs Tell if You're Sad?
Studies have shown that owning a dog really helps with sadness, even in cases of diagnosed depression. Studies have shown that petting woofers releases endorphins, which are chemicals our brain makes that help with our happiness. 

Exercising also releases endorphins. Because we have to run around to exercise our pups, we're forced to exercise. It also decreases blood pressure, which is often associated with being a healthier person. The healthier we are, the happier we can be!

In addition to altering the chemical makeup of our brains, dogs also change our behaviors in ways that are bound to make us happier. For one thing, they force us to go outside. Even if it's just for a short amount of time, being outside helps alleviate symptoms of depression and sadness. Taking our dog outside or playing with them can take our mind off of that which is distressing us, which can make us happier overall. 

Training Your Dog to Recognize Your Sadness

Training of Can Dogs Tell if You're Sad?
Luckily, dogs are built to recognize and respond to our emotions, so we really don't have to do anything to get our dogs to help us out when we're sad! There are certain training mechanisms that we can use, however, that may help us to feel happier and healthier because of our doggo (in a shorter amount of time, too). 

One thing you can do is take your dog through emotional support training. Service animals and support pups often go through a specific program which teaches them how to react to their owner being upset or going through severe bouts of depression. This can range from turning on the lights to wake up an owner that is having a nightmare to just giving kisses when they know their owner is sad.

If you want to, you can offer positive reinforcement to a dog that acts the way you want when you're sad. If your pupper gives you kisses when you're crying and you like that, give them a treat! If your doggo cuddles with you and offers physical comfort when you're down, give them some scratches. Show that you appreciate their behavior, and they'll keep doing it!

How to React to Your Dog Knowing You are Sad:

  • Make sure you get the help you need. Dogs, as cute as they are, cannot be the final solution to serious diseases like anxiety and depression. Reach out to a friend, therapist, or psychiatrist if you're battling mental health issues.
  • Don't adopt a dog just to help with your sadness. Dogs need attention too, and a dog that doesn't get the attention it needs will become sad on its own. Make sure, before you adopt a pupper, that you have the time to give it the care and attention it needs to stay happy and healthy, and keep you that way too!
  • Go through shelters or programs, if you can. There are a ton of agencies out there that deal specifically with service and emotional support animals, and your insurance may be able to help you out with adoption payments. Additionally, shelter pups can make awesome support woofers - they too have gone through struggles, so it's very easy for them to empathize with any sadness you're feeling!