Can Dogs Sense Sadness?

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Introduction

We've all had those days where the only thing that sounds good is balling up with a sappy movie and box of tissues, hoping no one notices. But what about your loyal pup? 

Studies have shown that dogs have a deeper emotional capacity than we had previously thought, which means you won't be able to get away with a day of sadness without your pooch noticing. Not only can they detect when their owner is sad, but research indicates that dogs can feel sadness, too. 

In order to truly understand how dogs feel, it is important to look at research and past studies that have been conducted. We have learned a lot about a dog's neurological makeup and emotional capabilities in recent years, but the brain is far too complex for us to know everything quite yet. When it comes to basic emotions like joy, fear, contentment, and sadness, just know Fido is on your side. 

Signs Your Dog Can Feel Sadness

Every dog owner thinks the world of their pup; it's only natural, after all. But how much of what we think about them is all in our heads versus what is true? We still have a lot to learn, but over the last few decades, we have discovered that dogs are more in tune than was previously thought. 

Just like humans, dogs display these emotions in different ways. Some may sit solemnly by the window when you leave to show how sad they are, whereas others will go to bed and refuse to look you in the eye. The more time you have with your pooch, the more you will learn about their behaviors and what they can feel. 

Dogs can also suffer from depression, something many of us don't think about. So, how do you know if your dog is particularly sad or depressed? Here are a few signs to look for:

  • They lose interest in their food 
  • Weight loss 
  • They are sleeping a lot (more than normal!)
  • They are no longer interested in playing, going for walks, and other things that normally excite them
  • They are licking their paw excessively or chewing 
  • You suddenly notice they are hiding or want to be left alone 

These are a just a few common signs your dog may be feeling a little blue. If you notice any of the above, keep a watchful eye on your pup and contact your vet if their symptoms worsen. 

Body Language

These are some of the signs that your dog can sense sadness:
  • Listening
  • Ears drop
  • Tense jaw
  • Low tail carriage
  • Averting eyes

Other Signs

Here are other signs your dog can sense sadness:
  • Sticking close by your side
  • Not being interested in toys or going outside
  • Abnormal changes in behavior

History of Dogs Feeling Sadness

Studies surrounding dogs' emotions have been taking place for centuries, tracing back to famed French philosopher, Rene Descartes. In one of the more referenced and prominent studies, Descartes suggested that dogs were a type of machine that can be programmed to do - and feel - certain things. 

While we've come a long way in regards to our understanding of man's best friend since then, Descartes spurred many other philosophers, scientists, and researchers to investigate the inner-workings of dogs. 

Today we know that dogs experience and filter emotions a lot like we do, although they certainly aren't as advanced in this realm as humans. Researchers continue to conduct studies to determine just how much dogs feel and how they express these emotions, so we expect to learn even more about our loyal furry friends in the years to come. 

Science Behind Dogs Feeling Sadness

A new study published in the journal Animal Cognition found that dogs respond uniquely to tears and were actually more likely to approach someone who was crying over a person that was talking or singing. Similar studies have found that dogs often respond to crying and sadness with submissive behaviors. This indicates they seem to understand our pain, although there is no concrete proof. 

A 2011 study also found that domestic dogs have the emotional capacity of a two-year-old. This means they are capable of understanding an estimated 165 words and can figure out what our body language means.

With this, there are also a handful of basic human emotions they can understand, including joy, fear, affection and love, disgust, contentment, distress, excitement, suspicion, and sadness. Unfortunately, a dog's capacity to feel shame isn't as deep as we like to think when we are scolding them! 

Science has progressed significantly since the time of Descartes, and now we've come to understand that dogs do, in fact, possess the same brain structures that produce emotions in humans. Furthermore, dogs also have the hormone oxytocin, which is what fluctuates when we are experiencing different emotions. Given the fact dogs have the same neurology and chemistry that we do, it only makes sense they can feel sadness (like when we leave for a long trip) and other basic emotions. 

Training Your Dog to Sense Sadness

If you think your dog is intuitive and you are interested in training them to sense sadness and other emotions in humans, looking into a service animal training program in your area may be a great option. Service animals are incredibly popular these days and are used for everything from helping those with disabilities to brightening up the day of a nursing home residents. While not all dogs are equipped to be good service dogs, many are, and it could be a great way for you to give back to the community. 

If this is something you are interested in, look for information on service dog training programs in your city. Unfortunately, there are many fake or illegitimate service dog certifications online that can make things quite confusing. We recommend contacting a local dog trainer and seeing what they have to offer. Many will have a Good Canine Citizen (CGC) class that will lay the groundwork for this type of training program. This certification is often required for service dog programs.

If you aren't interested in enrolling your dog in a full on service animal training program, but still want them to learn to be compassionate and recognize certain emotions, your best bet is to start with basic obedience training. Socializing your dog and getting them used to many different people and situations is also highly recommended. 

How to React If Your Dog Senses Sadness:

  • Let them love you!
  • Pay attention to their behavior and reward them during training.
  • Teach them basic obedience.