4 min read


Can Dogs Feel Despair?



4 min read


Can Dogs Feel Despair?


Contrary to what used to be popular belief, dogs do feel emotions, many of which we humans feel as well. Research shows that a dog's cognitive capacity is similar to that of a human toddler, leading us to understand that dogs are capable of feeling happy, sad, joyful, and upset, among other emotions. 

Because we feel such immense love for our sweet doggos, it is important for us to continuously observe our pups to make sure they are feeling A-OK. While tail wagging, licking, and cuddles tell us our pups are feeling dandy, whining or howling imply that something might be off. Do these signs mean our dogs are experiencing an emotion? Maybe even despair? Read on to find out!


Signs Your Dog Can Feel Despair

Dogs are capable of feeling a range of emotions. Science has shown that our pups can feel sadness, fear, shame, and even happiness. Because a dog's cognitive ability develops to about the level of a human toddler, they aren't able to internalize complex emotions for instance, emotions associated with regret or nostalgia.   

It's pretty easy to tell when our pups are happy. Your dog will be playing, wagging their tail, panting, or jumping. When our dogs are feeling joyful and comfortable, their body language will show just that. Relaxed ears, a slack tongue, and otherwise relaxed body posture indicate being content with life. 

Just the same, negative emotions will be obvious by your pup's body language as well. You'll know your dog is feeling sadness or despair if your pup has lowered ears, a rigid posture, or gleaming, puppy-dog eyes.

Similarly, dogs who have experienced a loss (whether it be a loss of a human or a furry friend) can withdraw. Sad or heartbroken symptoms can include lethargy, a lack of appetite, or a lack of interest in daily routine. While it might take us aback to see our pups in a sad mood, it is natural and common. 

However, it is important that your dog is maintaining a healthy lifestyle, even if they are feeling down in the dumps. Eventually, a bit of time will get your pup back on their feet - a little lovin' can really make things better. However, if negative behavior persists, be sure to reach out to your veterinarian. 

Body Language

Some signs that your pup is feeling despair may include:

  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Cowering
  • Panting
  • Howling
  • Wag Tail

Other Signs

Some other signs that your doggo is feeling despair may include:

  • Growling
  • Hiding
  • Going To The Bathroom Irregularly
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Going To The Bathroom In The House
  • Negative Behaviors
  • Change In Personality

The History Behind Dogs Feeling Despair


Way back when, wolves ran wild in the midst of early man. The hierarchy between man and wolf was later determined, and dogs began to work alongside humans as domesticated creatures. 

While wolves have never been exactly friendly to us humans, dogs have been genetically altered through the process of domestication. This process has enabled dogs to bond closer with their human counterparts, ultimately building relationships and more complex feelings. 

There are some things that have never been denied and that includes the ability of both dogs and wolves to feel heartbreak, grief, or despair when they lose a member of the pack. Wolves have been known to howl with their heads hung low, while dogs have been known to whimper and lose interest in being active.

The Science Behind Dogs Feeling Despair


While we can understand human despair through body language and verbal cues, ultimately, it may be hard for us to determine whether our pups are truly feeling despair. Unfortunately, our pups can't simply tell us when they're feeling upset. Therefore, we need observe their bodies and behaviors in order to determine how they're truly feeling. 

Studies have shown that dogs do indeed feel despair or even depression with the loss of a family member or furry friend. Whether these feelings are a result of a lack of companionship or a change in routine is not for certain, but science supports the idea that most dogs exhibit behavioral changes when one of their loved ones passes away.  

While we may not fully understand how our canine companions are feeling, we can still be the best owners we can possibly be by offering love and support. Scientists, animal behavioralists, and owners alike agree that love and patience can heal all wounds.

Helping a Dog in Despair


We all hate seeing our furry friends feeling low. With a little bit of love, we can help our best buddies see the silver lining and get back to being a happy-go-lucky pup.

If your pup is feeling low after a recent loss of a family member, you may need to spend time reassuring your pup that everything will be ok. Dogs (similarly to humans) are creatures of habit. They enjoy schedules and thrive off of everyday routine. While you may also be at a loss or feeling despair, working through sadness together can be healthy for everyone involved. It is important for your pup to stay healthy - so do your best to get outside of the home - whether it be playing at the park or a daily walk. 

If you are concerned about your dog’s health, be sure to contact your veterinarian. A veterinarian can advise you on appropriate treatment or medication, if needed. 

Here are some easy activities you can do with your pup to help lift the mood:

  • Play with a favorite toy
  • Go for a brisk walk
  • Set up a doggy playdate with another canine friend
  • Go for a ride in the car
  • Offer a special treat
Some owners firmly attest that playing classical music or leaving on the TV while your away can be helpful to your dog. Others believe that new toys can help create an interest in playing and exercise. Just remember that everyone needs a bit of lovin' when their feeling down, and time heals all. When in doubt, don't be afraid to speak with your vet!

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By Olivia Gerth

Published: 06/01/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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