4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Tension?



4 min read


Can Dogs Sense Tension?


Dogs are sociable animals and connect with people through their moods and feelings. Dogs understand when you feel sad and tense. They respond to your body language and even your body odor can give away changes in your mood. Dogs are able to interpret your facial expressions and even a sigh or sounds of tension in your voice. 

Therapy dogs in particular are sensitive to mood changes and are there to support their owners when they feel anxious or tense in any situation. The reason dogs are one of man's favorite companions is because they are sensitive to moods and underlying tension. Dogs are a comfort to anyone feeling tense.


Signs a Dog is Sensing Tension

Dogs are very good a signaling their moods and finding ways to connect with their owners through body language. Dogs will use calming signals to show they understand if you are tense or anxious about anything. Lip licking signifies an attempt to communicate and relieve tension. A gentle tail wag says, "I know you are feeling tense right now, and I desire to sit up close with you." 

Your dog will try to calm you down with their calming behavior, nuzzling and even getting between two people who may be arguing. Your dog may sit at your feet and look up with a reassuring gaze. They will not be intrusive, but rather try to calm you with gentle behavior. 

Dogs will attempt to lick the hands or face of a tense crying person. They have even been known to take toys to someone who is upset as a way to comfort them and relieve the tension. If you are the pack leader, your dog will want to please you in every situation. If your dog senses tension in your body language they will become respectful of your tense mood and try to be a support and a comfort at that time.

Body Language

Indications that your dog sense tension include:

  • Head Tilting
  • Listening
  • Lip Licking

Other Signs

More signs that your dog knows there is tension are:

  • Sitting Close To You
  • Putting Their Head In Your Lap
  • Licking Your Hands Or Face

The History of Dogs Sensing Tension


Dogs and their ancestors showed a sensitivity towards human emotions from the time that they wanted to become part of the domestic environment. Early on in their journey to become part of the human pack they had to be sensitive to tension. A tense family environment would not encourage a dog to enter the cave, for instance, and be part of the family. 

Dogs worked their way into man's home through understanding voice and body language. Today, humans have come to depend on our canine friends to relieve tension through their play activities or just through being a faithful and loyal companion. War veterans have grown to depend on their therapy dogs to sense their tension in difficult and emotional situations. 

During a TV interview with a veteran and his dog, the dog was sitting close to his owner and when the interview touched on some emotional issues and the veteran became tense, the dog gently put his head in the veteran's lap to calm him and give comfort. This simple gesture relieved the tension and enabled the veteran to continue with the interview. Dogs have been amazing comforters to the aged and the mentally ill needing affirmation in tense and difficult situations.

The Science Behind Dogs Sensing Tension


Scientists and behavior therapists have detected that dogs have an ability to sense changes in human adrenal glands and the secretion of stress hormones. Some dogs have been trained to be cortisol-detection dogs and can sense agitation levels in the bloodstream indicating a stressed or tense person. 

A dog called Cali is being used in a high school to detect stress levels in the students as they enter the hall to sit exams. She points her nose in the direction of the stressed student and the school counselor is able to take children aside and help their nervous state. Cali is also used to detect students that may be pretending to be ill and she does not point her nose in recognition of their anxiety if they are not showing signs of tension.

Training a Dog to Sense Tension


Therapy dogs are trained to use their instinctive ability to sense tension in their owners. The therapy dog is trained in different techniques to relieve the tension and support the patient. Therapy dogs are used to sense the body's tension and changes in body temperature associated with certain medical conditions. Therapy dogs are trained to support children with stress and anxiety. They have been known to accompany children into tense school environments and exam rooms to give support and diffuse tension. 

Certain breeds of dogs are more suited to becoming therapy dogs because of their innate temperament, their intelligence, and their sensitivity. Dogs used for specialized bird hunting are trained to use their sensitivity to tension through Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy or 'dynamic stillness.' It is a way of storing tension to be released at the right time and is described as the transformation of kinetic energy. 

Bird dogs are trained to be able to sense their prey and point for the hunter. They store up their kinetic tension as they are poised to flush out the bird. Hunter and gun dog learn how to share this tense energy as they become a team, watching and waiting for the right moment to flush out the bird. Tension and teamwork are built between the hunter and their dog. The gun dog is so intently focused on smelling the bird that just a slight movement of the bird will cause the dog's head to tilt, but he will not release the tension until the command is given. 

The German Short Haired Pointer has a natural instinctive desire to point and alert the hunter, but not every pointer is acutely tuned into the tension that comes between the hunter and their gun dog. This level of pointing and recognition of the tension sensed at that moment takes training and practice.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

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

Get Vet Chat

By a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Published: 07/27/2018, 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


© 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.