4 min read


Can Dogs Feel Compassion?



4 min read


Can Dogs Feel Compassion?


When you think of a friend, what traits come to mind? Do you think of someone who is kind, funny, maybe even compassionate? Compassion is one of the most valued traits in a friend, and many people in today’s world think it’s an elusive one. 

However, have you ever considered that maybe one of the greatest owners of compassion is sitting right next to your feet? According to a recent study conducted by the University of Vienna, man’s best friend might be able to distinguish between human emotions - and maybe show compassion.


Signs your Dog is Trying to Pick Up on Your Feelings

The way that dogs best express showing compassion is through their body language and senses. The main way that the study that was mentioned earlier noted an emotional response from the K9 subjects was “freezing.” When the dog heard negative emotions being expressed, they “froze” to observe the sounds and reacted differently to positive emotional sounds.

Aside from the study, several dog owners have also expressed that their dogs do things such as wagging their tails, raising their ears, and tilting their heads when their owners expressed emotions. A dog simply wagging their tail is a pretty common occurrence. When they heard their owner talking in an excited tone of voice, or exhibiting excited body language, the furry companion would wag their tail. This made many dog owners feel that the dog was listening, and picking up on their owner’s emotional cues, creating a tighter-knit relationship between dog and owner.

Another two cues that owners have noted are closely related. Have you ever seen your furry companion raise their ears or tilt their head when you’re talking to them?  Experts have said that this is a dog’s way of adjusting their hearing. However, many owners have said they feel their dogs are perhaps trying to understand what their owner is saying and maybe even showing an interest.

Body Language

<p>Here are some signs your dog may be trying to sense how you feel:<br/></p>

  • Head Tilting
  • Wag Tail
  • Raise Ears
  • Freezing

Other Signs

Other ways your dog could be picking up on your emtions include:

  • Reacting When Someone Is Harsh
  • Cuddling
  • Staying Close By

History of Dogs Feeling Compassion


While dogs showing emotions or compassion seems to be a fairly new area of study, it appears to fall under the topic of anthrozoology. Anthrozoology is defined by Britannica as “ [the] study of the interactions and relationships between human and nonhuman animals. Anthrozoology spans the humanities and the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences.” While emotion and compassion in dogs have been a heavily debated topic for years, it seems surprising there hasn’t been more research done.  

It is interesting to note, however, that in this digital age, social media users are constantly bombarded with examples of dogs showing compassion. On any given day, you can watch videos of dogs doing everything from cuddling a crying toddler, to trying to make amends with their owners by bringing offerings of dog toys. These videos amass huge amounts of views on YouTube, and the comment sections are full of opinions too. So, it appears fascination with the topic of dogs showing compassion is definitely not lacking in interest.

Science Behind Dogs Feeling Compassion


Since dogs can’t speak, and there are not many studies in this area, dogs understanding emotions and having compassion is mostly speculation. It is  very poignant, though, that we call our furry companions, “man’s best friend.” How can you have a best friend who doesn’t understand your emotions or has no interest in comforting you? Most dog owners would argue you can’t. 

It is interesting to note, however, that it seems that emotions are not just something reserved for dogs. You can see videos and hear countless stories of heroic cats, loving orangutans, and even food-sharing birds. Stories of dogs do differ from stories of other animal species showing compassion, however, because most of the stories about dogs have compassion aimed solely towards humans. Maybe dogs are around humans more, so they have greater opportunities, but their overall loving nature and drive for praise seems to signal compassion or, at the very least, emotional intelligence.

Training Your Dog If They Become Overly Protective


While it is sweet and fun to observe a dog appearing to show compassion toward humans, and it doesn’t seem to be a dangerous behavior on the surface, it is important to keep a few things in mind. Many owners go years without having any problems with their dogs and enjoy the love and companionship that comes with that relationship. However, there are exceptions.

It’s very important to build a strong relationship with your dog. Make sure you are respectful and kind to them, but dogs also need a strong leader. It’s important to let the dog know that what you say goes, and they need to be obedient. If your dog is obedient to you, this will go a long way in making sure they feel calm and don’t lash out.

Speaking of lashing out, while we all love our furry friends, they are still animals. Sometimes protective or compassionate behavior, from dogs, can inadvertently result in disastrous problems such as injury. So, it’s important to nip any negative behavior in the bud right away. 

For example, if your dog appears to love and protect your child, that’s wonderful. What’s not so wonderful is when a dog thinks that another family member, or friend, is going to hurt your child and unexpectedly lashes out at this other person. If this occurs, it’s critical to train your dog not to react in this way. A few tips include not rewarding the bad behavior, telling the dog “no,” making sure you’ve established yourself as the clear leader, and seeking help from a professional trainer before the behavior becomes too aggressive.

Overall, compassion in dogs is still a bit of a mystery. It is comforting to note that it is a very real possibility, however. So, on days when compassion seems to be lacking, consider turning to your furry best friend, and know that perhaps compassion isn’t so far away.

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By Katie Anderson

Published: 03/24/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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