4 min read


Can Dogs Feel Unhappiness?



4 min read


Can Dogs Feel Unhappiness?


We all know that our little woofer loves us with all of their hearts. It varies from dog to dog in how they express it - maybe they wag their tails so hard that their bodies shake when we come home from a long day at work, maybe they cuddle up to us on the couch every chance that they get while we're just vegging out, or maybe they give us random kisses throughout the day to show that they care. 

No matter how your dog shows affection, it's hard not to realize how your dog really feels about you. But many owners also wonder if dogs have other feelings too. Do they get sad when we leave for the day? Do they get mad when we take their favorite toy away? Are they actually feel fear when they look at the vacuum, or are they just reacting to something that they don't understand? 

Well, luckily, scientists everywhere are dog-lovers too, and there have been tons of studies done in regards to what emotions dogs actually feel, why they feel them, and what behaviors they exhibit when they're feeling different things. So, while some owners may be upset to learn that yes, our dogs can definitely feel unhappiness, there's luckily a ton of things we can learn about their behaviors that tell us that they're sad, and once we know that they're sad, there's a lot that we can do to make them happy again!


Signs Your Dog May be Unhappy

Reasons why your dog may be unhappy vary by dog, breed, and upbringing. They may be sad that you have to leave for the day because they know you won't be around to play for a while. They may be sad because another furry friend in your household passed away, and they don't have their fur-brother or -sister to hang out with anymore. And frankly, they may just be sad because you took their favorite toy away!

While we can't always know exactly the reason behind our dog's feelings, we've at least learned that every dog exhibits certain cues that tell their owner that they're feeling unhappy. The sooner we recognize these signs, the faster we can get our doggos happy again.

Much like us, sad puppers often have changes in their appetites and sleep schedule. While some, when they're unhappy, may not eat or lose interest in food, others may use food as a solace or a comfort mechanism. What your dog does depends on who they are, so keep an eye on your doggo's normal eating habits, so you'll know when it changes. 

Other puppers may also sleep a lot when they're sad - similar to us! "If you leave your dog for a long time (say, for work) and he continues to sleep after you get home, barely reacting to your presence, something is probably wrong." Similarly, sad pups will also lose interest in things that they normally liked, such as playing, going for walks or runs, and other fun stuff. "Dogs who become less active, slow down, or seem to lose purpose may be suffering from dog depression." 

As to physical symptoms, other dogs may lick their paws. For them, this type of behavior is actually pretty soothing. They may also pace to show their discomfort or agitation, just as they may also be destructive when they're sad. 

Bored or upset dogs may not have a way to deal with what they're feeling, so they exert their distress in an outward way. This can be tearing through the trash, chewing up their favorite toys, or maybe even having accidents in the house. 

You should also look at your doggo's face and body language to determine whether or not they're sad. Sad woofers will often have their ears drooped or pressed back against their heads, or may even avoid eye contact. 

In regards to all of these, it's important that you note your dog's regular behaviors, so you'll be able to tell the difference when your dog starts to act funky due to puppy sadness.

Body Language

A few cues that indicate your pup is sad include:

  • Shaking
  • Pacing
  • Weakness
  • Low Tail Carriage
  • Lack Of Focus
  • Whimpering
  • Averting Eyes
  • Ears Back

Other Signs

Some more signs that your pooch is glum are:

  • Paw-Licking
  • Destructive Behavior
  • Submissive Behavior
  • Extra Shedding
  • Passive Stance
  • Change In Eating Habits
  • Change In Sleeping Patterns

The History Behind Unhappiness in Dogs


Humans and dogs have been growing up with each other and giving each other companionship for well over 10,000 years! Surprisingly, dogs can usually tell how we're feeling, which includes sadness. Because of that, they've picked up on a lot of the behaviors that we show when we're sad. 

For example, sad puppers will often want to be alone or will hide in a comfortable place. We do the same! Additionally, their eating habits or sleeping patterns may change during times of stress. These same symptoms are shown in individuals who are suffering from bouts of depression or anxiety. 

Lastly, like us, they may make noises! We shed tears and make noises when we're crying. Since dogs can't "cry" like we can, they exhibit their sadness through whimpering. So if you think your dog is sad, think back on how you react when you're upset. If you see similar behavior traits, it may be a sign that your doggo is sad.

The Science Behind Unhappiness in Dogs


Because many scientists are dog-lovers as well, multiple studies have been done to try to figure out how and why dogs feel the way that they do. As a result, we've learned that dogs actually have the same emotional capabilities as toddlers! 

As dogs grow, the way they feel and how they do it grows with them. Dogs basically feel the same emotions that a 2 and 1/2-year-old can feel. These include things like fear, disgust, happiness, anger, suspicion, or affection and love. So when you're wondering what your dog is feeling, remember that they really can feel just about as much as a little kiddo can!

Training Your Dog to Feel Certain Emotions


There's not really any way that we can train our dogs to be unhappy, and that's a good thing! Like people, dogs are going to feel a certain way about certain things. So again, it's important to know how your dog usually behaves, so that you'll quickly notice when they start acting differently. 

There are, however, ways to train your dog to exhibit their sadness in less destructive behaviors. When your woofer is sad and they get into the trash or chew up your favorite shoes, you can gently admonish them. But it's also important to use positive reinforcement as well! You can use treats or toys to reward them when they behave appropriately. 

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By Katherine McCormick

Published: 04/11/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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