6 min read


Can Dogs Read Our Emotions?



6 min read


Can Dogs Read Our Emotions?


A few years back, the conversation anywhere on earth in regard to dogs being able to read human emotions would have been interesting. Many folks would have scoffed adamantly that it couldn’t be done as dogs herd sheep and hunt for game. We’ve come a long way since then with the sparkling news that dogs have been harboring a few pawsome secrets.

They can read emotions and do so with finesse. They are intrepid interpreters of how we are feeling and are always ready to lend a helping paw. Science and psychology have taken dogs for walks through studies that verify what dog people have been saying for centuries. Dogs can read emotions and can tell if you’re happy or sad.


Signs a Dog Can Tell How You are Feeling

When the probing minds of science had a flash of insight about dogs' emotive abilities, there must have been smiles all around. Up until this inspiring news, our beautiful fur-babies, from Greyhounds to Basenjis, were in the dumb dumpster and likened to a cyborg with zero intelligence. That's surprising when you think how cleverly they herd all kinds of cattle and do incredible things in the line of duty as astute police officers. Today, when a K9 passes they are honored as a mark of respect.

Ignorance is certainly bliss amongst us humans, who are quick to cancel a species like dogs without knowing the facts. It also makes it far too easy for uncaring people to treat them with disdain. As the evidence keeps coming about our pooches emotional abilities the laws will hopefully change in recognition of their humanistic traits.

If you are the proud pet-parent of a devoted Dachshund or wiley Whippet, you’ll know how they stare deeply into your soul if you’ve had sad news.  Like people, they want their friend to feel good, so they might whine or bark to get your attention. If you’re in a super-upbeat mood, your affectionate English Pointer will jump on board and play-bow to get the party started.

Dogs can’t talk, but their body language tells an emotional tale. Their dropped ears indicate a worried stance when you argue with your partner, while a tail held high denotes a happy mutt. If your pooch paces up and down, whimpering as they walk, it could be they are upset seeing you feeling down. They mirror our emotions and soak them up like a sponge.

Dogs can tell by your facial expressions and tone of voice that their pet mom or dad is having a bad day. Being part of the family, they’ll put their best paw forward and try to cheer you up. If they’re a fun Foxy who’s always up for playing ball in the park, they’ll sit in front of you, titling their cute head to one side, panting in anticipation of open fields and doggy pals to greet.

Our passionate pooches can also read the emotions other mutts exude. If you’re out on a walk, take note of the interplay between two friendly pooches. They’ll sniff each other and if all goes well, lick the other dogs face.

It seems dogs can read emotions in humans, dogs, and other animals. National  Geographic told the emotive story of a Greyhound named Jasmine. She had been found by the police in a locked shed and was in a terrible state. Jasmine was taken to an animal sanctuary where she turned out to be a loving foster mother to foxes, a fawn, rabbits, badger cubs, chicks, and a deer. Jasmine understood these rescued animals needed emotional care and helped raise them.

Dogs feel others pain, whether its a person or other animal, and these extraordinary canines like Jasmine offer their support.

Body Language

Signs a dog understands your emotions are:<br/>

  • Barking
  • Pacing
  • Sniffing
  • Whimpering
  • Licking
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

More signs a dog can tune into your emotions include:<br/>

  • Comforting You
  • Mirroring Your Mood
  • Observing Your Facial Expressions
  • Reacting To The Tone Of Your Voice

History of Dogs Understanding Emotions


For those who were not aware that dogs are related to wolves, a quick catch-up reveals the Husky-looking wolf has an emotional life in the pack using facial expressions to convey their thoughts. That’s the findings of Mark Beckoff, the author of The Emotional Lives Of Animals,  who tells us wolves grieve like humans, as was the case when members of a pack lost a female wolf and her family hung their heads and cried mournfully.

It’s ironic that wolves somewhere back in time got close to humans and evolved a crazy clan of breeds called dogs. Wolves made an early, primeval man a better hunter and set the scene for the domestication of other animals, but today wolves and man are not as friendly as they were thousands of years ago.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead of thanking them for giving us the most amazing animal companions, we hunt wolves in areas to near extinction.

Dogs have inherited a certain amount of emotion from wolves, but learning to read our feelings has a lot to do with their domestication. Dogs have unique barking sounds that communicate what’s on their minds and seem to have a handle on our facial expressions and vocal tones, allowing them to read us like a book!

Studies Prove Dogs Can Read Our Emotions


Dogs know when you’re sad, staring at you with doleful eyes as if to say, “Don’t cry!” A study at London University verifies that our caring canines can be emotionally invested in their owner’s feelings.

People were told to hum, talk, or fake-cry to see how the study dogs would respond. All woofers were affected by the crying people and exhibited concern at their pain. Dog owners having a sad moment know this to be true, as their nurturing pooches lick away the tears.

Emotional support dogs are a classic example of woofers responding to human emotions. If their guardian suffers from depression, an emotive pooch will tune into their pet-parent's vibe.

Dogs have a calming effect on people with anxiety issues and can lower blood pressure and reduce the possibility of a heart attack. Having a dog helps to battle the blues of depression and it really works, as they can read their companions emotions and be a great comfort through the worst of times.

The Telegraph highlights how dogs can read a person's emotions and help them if they have post-traumatic stress (PTSD). This affects soldiers who have experienced trauma fighting for their country. The Department of Defence in Bethesda, Maryland found dogs have a powerful healing effect on stress and depression. Woofers, with their magical emotions, also helped soldiers with their sleep patterns and reduced the need for medication.

The empathy that appears to flow between people and their pooches allows an interplay of caring and compassion.

Training Dogs to Respond to Human Emotion


Dogs are people-watchers and learn by observing their guardian's moods. Humans have the privilege of being able to communicate by talking, while dogs rely on our facial expressions and body moves. 

Every day we interact with people, some we know and others we are meeting for the first time. With the power of speech so easy to apply, we rely on this for answers to our probing questions. A person’s body language speaks volumes and that’s probably why dogs see the untrustworthy person before we do

It’s not hard to comprehend that they read our emotions by observation. They also have another handy asset which enables them to smell changes in our bodily chemicals - a dead giveaway if you’re a person of ill-repute. While we are chatting away to a potential new friend, our woofer is sniffing like crazy and checking out the person's hand gestures, posture, facial expressions and tone of voice.

With a dog's natural sense of human emotions, it's likely they could be the best judge of character. They are also great companions if your life is shrouded in pain or by a mental disorder. Dogs are so emotionally connected to us that they sense when you’re having a tough time.

Some woofers are vigorously trained to become psychiatric service dogs that perform tasks and live with their guardians as emotional support. The untrained family pooch can also play the role just by being there when their guardian needs a helping paw!

All the chit-chat in the world doesn’t stop even the most astute person being taken in by a crafty con-man, but your dog sitting quietly by your side is already thinking “this guy’s no good!” Your Poodle or Mastiff has already read the signs!

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

By a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Published: 04/10/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Does your pet have a supplement plan?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.