4 min read


Can Dogs Feel Gratitude?



4 min read


Can Dogs Feel Gratitude?


Gratitude is one of the most wonderful feelings. A card or a simple thank you note goes a long way in today's world. Humans really value expressing and receiving gratitude, but have you ever thought about if your dog can understand and express gratitude? It'd be nice to think so, wouldn't it? 

After all, you feed them, walk them, play with them, foot the bill when they need to go to the vet. You hope they'd be grateful for that... but are they even capable of that? It's a complicated question, but a lot of people believe a dog can understand and express gratitude, even more freely than humans in some cases.


Signs Your Dog is Grateful

Famed dog trainer Cesar Millan says that dogs can't lie, and that their feelings are immediately expressed through their body language. So, you can tell exactly how they are feeling based on what they are doing. It's important to know your dog individually and what they do when they are feeling a certain way. 

However, a few general things you might notice if your dog is feeling grateful include tail wagging and simply being alert to what you're doing. The wag of the tail is one of the most distinct ways a dog communicates with us. It's simple, but we understand each other. 

Dogs are great observers of us too, and we'd like to think that's because they care about how we feel in certain situations. A few other things you might notice include your pup licking you and maybe even staring at you - as if they are trying to get your attention.

The main thing to keep in mind is dogs express gratitude in different ways. However, a lot of it is about just being present. Cesar points out that many dogs show their gratitude the most by simply being by their master’s side and doing simple things like taking walks or "smiling" at their owner when they give them their dinner. It's all nonverbal, but it's simple and lovely when you notice it. He also points out that if you want to see real gratitude from a dog, adopting rescue dogs is a wonderful way to observe gratitude.

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog is grateful:

  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Wag Tail
  • Licking

Other Signs

Here are a few other signs you might notice if your dog is grateful:

  • "Smiling" At You
  • Cuddling With You
  • Spending Time With You In General

History of Dogs and Gratitude


Gratitude is one of those things that has been around for a very long time. It's very valuable in human culture, and in fact, not expressing gratitude to others can make you seem impolite and cold. Being grateful seems to tie very deeply into cultural norms, and people often give service because of the feelings they get from helping others and their feeling of gratitude. 

As for your pup, as mentioned, how they express their gratitude is non-verbal and different from dog to dog. However, if you have ever seen how happy a hungry dog is when you feed them or if you comfort them when they seem sad, many people claim to just see it on their faces - no words required.

Science Behind Dogs and Gratitude


Scientifically speaking, some sources believe that a dog can't in fact show or understand gratitude. They believe that dogs just don't understand emotions like humans. However, many dog owners and dog lovers would agree that if you spend time with your pupper for long enough, you'll be able to observe what many feel is gratitude. 

VetIQ points out that gratitude is expressed by dogs through the love you feel from them. There aren't a lot of experiments or scientific research about this topic. You just have to observe it.

One dog owner recalled a time where her pup had a splinter stuck in his paw and was limping around the house. He didn't seem to make a lot of noise or a fuss about it, but his family could tell he was in pain. So, the dog owner and her sister helped to get the splinter out of the pup's paw. He was so thrilled to have it out, that the look he gave them afterward was enough to express his feelings. No experiments required!

Training Your Dog to Feel Gratitude


So, can you train a dog to be grateful or show their gratitude? No, like with humans, either a dog is grateful or they aren't. You can, however, cultivate a loving relationship with your dog so you both better understand one another.

To build a strong bond with your dog, first and foremost, you need to have a trusting and loving relationship between the two of you. This is critical groundwork for bonding. Once you have that, PetMD makes a few suggestions. Spending time with your dog, teaching them tricks, playing games with them all show them that you love them. 

Another big part of a strong bond is praising your dog. So, praise them verbally when they do something good and make sure they get plenty of rubs and snuggles along the way. PetMD also suggests being unpredictable. Dogs love routines, so this may seem like odd advice. However, by being a little unpredictable, your dog will have to “tune in” to what you’re doing and observe you more closely. This helps with the bonding process as they become more in tune with how you’re feeling.

So, can dogs feel gratitude? We think yes, though since dogs can’t talk, we can’t ever know for sure.

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By Katie Anderson

Published: 05/25/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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