Can Dogs Sense if You are Sad?

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Introduction

Any dog owner will likely tell you their dog understands what you are feeling - both good and bad. Most of us have experienced that heart-warming moment when you are sobbing seemingly inconsolably on the couch, only to have your furry friend snuggle up against you, licking your tears away and letting you know they will never leave your side. And while most pet owners could certainly tell you their dog definitely knows when they are sad, now science has also jumped on board.

Several recent studies have confirmed that dogs know when people feel happy, angry, and sad. They can understand the difference between these emotions and will swoop in to comfort you when you are down. Every dog is different, but let's look at a few of the signs your dog knows when you are sad and what the science behind this is. 

Signs a Dog Knows You are Sad

In recent years scientists have discovered that dog brains have areas dedicated to voice, just like humans. Why is this important? For one, this provides us with insight as to how canines can be so in-sync with their owners' emotions and feelings. 

A neuroscientist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom has called this discovery "groundbreaking" because of how monumental it is to better understand the relationship between dogs and humans. On the flip side, researchers have also learned that humans are able to distinguish between a dogs' happy and sad barks using the same part of the brain. 

By taking the time to understand how and why dogs can detect our emotions, we continue to learn more about our fiercely loyal companions and the impact they have on our lives. While not all dogs will show that they know you are sad (i.e. lick your tears away) the fact of the matter is that they know something is up. How can you tell? 

Many dogs will give you a certain "look" that will tell you they know you aren't happy. Other dogs will comfort you by snuggling up close to you or laying by your side, and still others will literally wipe the tears from your face. 

Body Language

Here are a few signs your dog senses sadness:
  • Staring
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Listening
  • Head turning

Other Signs

These are other signs your dog understands when you are sad:
  • Sticking close to by your side
  • Licking your face and tears
  • Being protective of you
  • Snuggling up to you
  • Trying to comfort you

History of Dogs Understanding Sadness

Numerous studies have been conducted over the years with the intention of gaining a better understanding of dogs and their emotional capacity. Way back when it was thought that dogs could only experience what we trained them to. Thanks to modern science, we now know that is not the case. 

Researchers and scientists all over the world - from Rene Descartes to influential figures of today - have been mesmerized by our canine companions and have strived to understand them better. Through case studies and observation over the years, we have learned that dogs experience basic emotions similar to humans, such as joy, sadness, anger, envy, and contempt.

Science Behind Dogs Knowing When We are Sad

Science has discovered that there are several different ways that dogs are able to tell if a human is happy or sad. They often look to our faces in order to determine our emotions, which means they understand tears. Two prominent researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna's Messerli Research Institute trained dogs to look at the faces of various people in order to see how they interpreted their facial expressions. 

In one part of the study, the researchers covered up half of the participant's faces to see if dogs could understand emotions just by looking at the eyes or mouth. Some dogs were rewarded for picking the happy face, while others were given a treat when they pinpointed the angry face. 

This study - and others like it - show us that dogs can sense when something is wrong. When you are sad or going through a rough time, your dog understands this. Some dogs just get it through their intuition, whereas others look at your face and other clues to better understand what you are feeling. 

Keep in mind that just because your dog knows you're sad doesn't necessarily mean they will be your shoulder to cry on. Like humans, dogs react differently to sadness and other emotions - but don't think your dog doesn't pick up on what you are going through. 

Training Your Dog to Sense Sadness

Like humans, dogs sense sadness, happiness, and other emotions intuitively. There is no one way to train your dog to know when you are sad or having a bad day; they just know. Different breeds and dogs interpret our emotions in various ways, from observing our facial expressions and behaviors to simply going with that instinctual feeling.

If you want to train your dog to comfort you and others in times of need, a good option may be to look into a service animal or emotional support animal training program. It is no secret that dogs are comforting creatures, which is why they are used so broadly for support and help for people with disabilities and mental illness.

How to React When Your Dog Senses Sadness:

  • Stay alert and observe your dog.
  • If appropriate, encourage their good behavior.
  • Reward them!