5 min read


Can Dogs Feel Their Owner's Emotions?



5 min read


Can Dogs Feel Their Owner's Emotions?


If you are wondering about your dog's ability to feel your emotions then be assured that dogs are able to feel all kinds of emotions and sense incredible things about you, the dog’s owner.  

A dog has an amazing sense of smell, keen sight and hearing. In addition, dogs are pack animals and can read your body language. Dogs have been around people for a long time and have learned what pleases the human members of the pack. Your dog can sense emotions through body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Dogs know when you are happy and can comfort you when you are sad. 


Signs of Dogs Being Able to Sense Their Owner's Emotions.

Dogs can use their five senses to signal or sign to you that they follow the emotion you are displaying. Their senses are so finely tuned that they can pick up on problems or emotions you have not even thought they would be able to understand. 

Dogs ‘speak’ to us through their body language, sounds they can make, and their facial expressions. Dogs use their senses to follow our body language, vocalizations, and facial expressions. However, the dog’s extrasensory ability allows them to tune into signs we may not be able to see ourselves. 

Dogs can ‘read’ facial expressions very well. Try the happy/sad mirror test. Sit in front of your dog and put on a happy face, you should get a happy, tail-wagging dog in return. Then, try a sad face and even add some sad sounds, and your dog will respond with concern and a worried expression as they mirror your facial expression. Dogs can also pick up on the sound of your voice, and as their sense of hearing has a wide frequency, they can hear you coming in from work and figure out your tone of voice as you arrive. 

Dogs have a very acute sense of smell and can determine emotions like fear, anger, and disappointment. If you are feeling sad, your dog can sense this and feel subdued by you. Dogs respond to weeping with a submissive demeanor. 

Dogs are able to sense if you plan something they don’t enjoy.  A bath, or visit to the vet may signal time to run away and hide. Dogs can understand fear because they are able to detect the increase in adrenalin, They can sense if your priorities have changed. A new baby in the house, a new job, or visitors; a dog can sense social situations that are challenging. 

Dogs are sensitive to hormone changes and can sense if you are pregnant They understand grief and are known to howl when a loved one dies or to sit by a graveside and grieve the death of a family member. Dogs are amazingly sensitive to our emotions!

Body Language

Body language that shows dogs can sense their owners emotions includes:

  • Head Tilting
  • Listening
  • Wag Tail
  • Dropped Ears
  • Whimpering
  • Ears Up

Other Signs

Other signs that dogs can sense their owner's emotions are:

  • Resting Head On Owners Lap
  • Waiting Quietly Next To Owner
  • Following Owner

The History of Dogs Feeling Our Emotions


Throughout history, there are many amazing stories of dogs making emotional connections to rescue and help people. Dogs have been known to rescue people from very challenging situations. They have sensed danger and been able to save people and at the same time, they add that deeper meaning and sensitivity to the rescue. 

They sense the need for emotional support or survival tactics and will find help from other sources. These emotional connections are put to the test in many different circumstances. One very memorable occasion revolves around a dog called Rosella. Rosella was a guide dog for her blind owner, who happened to be working in the tower that fell during the September 9:11 disaster. 

Rosella managed to guide her owner to safety during the chaos that occurred that day. She was there giving emotional support to people trapped on stairways who, instead of panicking, were able to stroke a dog like Rosella. It was reported that she made many people, including firefighters, feel calmer in their anxious moments. 

Among our canine heroes, there are many reports of snow rescues. It is worth mentioning a Labrador/Border Collie mix called Keno, who was responsible for a live rescue of a lift operator at the Fernie Ski Resort. The man had been buried for twenty minutes before Keno found him beneath the snow, after an avalanche. Keno could sense through an emotional connection that there was still hope for the man. Keno was honored for his bravery and a memorial stands for him at Fernie Ski Resort. 

The list of dogs using their emotional skills to search and rescue is extensive. It is very encouraging to read these stories, proving that dogs can feel their owner's emotions and the emotions of others too.

The Science of Dogs Feeling Emotion


There is scientific evidence available to confirm a dog’s ability to feel emotions. Experiments have been carried out that show there is a part of a dog’s brain, like the human brain, that can decipher emotions through the sound of voices. They respond to both sounds from their own species and from their owners. It is an acoustics parameter in the brain that senses happy sounds with their pitch, as opposed to sad sounds. 

A dog’s incredible sense of smell is an added factor in detecting emotions. Depending on the breed, their sense of smell is 10 000 to 100 000 times stronger than their owner's. This means that dogs can smell and sense changes in body odor that are 10 000 – 100 000 times weaker than a person can detect. Scientifically speaking, dogs are superior in these areas of emotional/sensory detection. 

Training Dogs to Feel Others' Emotions


Dogs have become such an integral part of our lives and we can rely on them for more than just protection. Dogs have become therapy dogs, offering support, to ex-servicemen and other groups of people needing emotional assistance. The sick and the elderly benefit from the love and interaction of a therapy dog. 

A therapy dog does not need as much training as a guide dog. There are certain breeds that are more people-orientated, but a dog with good social skills and basic obedience training could become a therapy dog. Therapy dogs have been able to assure ex-servicemen that they can start to lead a normal life without the anxiety and stress they have experienced. They can also lift emotions of depression and help the aged and lonely find some comfort. 

It is helpful to know that not only negative cycles are broken, but positive ones are restored. Looking after a pet makes the pet owner focus on something else besides their sadness and depression. The therapy dog will instinctively know when a cheerful nuzzle will comfort their owners. 

It is possible to train your own dog to be a therapy dog - if you feel your dog has the right qualities and you have the time to invest in the training. A therapy dog needs to enjoy being handled and be obedient. It will not be comforting if a therapy dog is too boisterous. There are organizations that will assist with enabling your dog to become a therapy dog. 

You may have someone in your family who would benefit from the companionship of a dog that can sense emotional stress. Breaking the cycle of panic or depressed thoughts is one of the most comforting actions of a therapy dog. These dogs will patiently wait by their owner’s side till they feel comforted. 

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Written by a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 06/15/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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