Can Dogs Smell Sadness?

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When you were younger, did you ever have a time where you were really sad, and your pooch seemed to notice? Maybe they came over, curled up in your lap, and tried to look you in the eye. Some dog owners even note their pooches giving them kisses. 

No matter what your dog does, they’ve been known to be comforting, especially in times of great distress or fear. So, this begs the question, can dogs smell - or at least sense sadness?

Introduction of Can Dogs Smell Sadness?

Signs that Your Dog Senses You are Sad

It’s important to start with what dog owners have observed their dog doing when their owner is sad. One of the main things is the dog simply being in the room with their owner and being perfectly alert to their human’s body language. 

Your dog many raise their ears and even tilt their head, almost as if to see what you’re thinking. Some dog lovers have even seen dogs wag their tails and whimper quietly to express emotion. This probably ties into your dog trying to read your body language and communicate to you that they are trying to understand.

A few things your dog might do to comfort you include sitting in your lap, being extra cuddly, licking your face, and generally just staying right next to you. Reactions will vary by the dog, but even the most non-cuddly of dogs will try to comfort their distraught owner, as best they can.

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your dog thinks you're sad:
  • Alert
  • Head tilting
  • Wag tail
  • Raise ears
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you might notice if your dog is trying to comfort you:
  • Trying to sit in your lap
  • Giving extra cuddles
  • Licking your face
  • Staying right next to you

History of Dogs Sensing Sadness

History of Can Dogs Smell Sadness?

Historically, dogs have been human’s companions for thousands of years, and there is a reason we call them “man’s best friend.” They have helped us hunt, farm, protect ourselves, and some dogs have even been trained to help people with disabilities. 

Service dogs are a great example of dogs being able to pick up on human emotions and help their owners. Service dogs have special training to pick up on human’s body language and then be able to help their owner help themselves or get help. This shows that dogs have been able to sense our distress somehow and even save lives.

Even if your dog is not a service dog and seems a bit standoffish when it comes to cuddling, they still might try to comfort you if the need arises. A dog owner recently recounted the time when she found out her grandmother had passed away. Her usually not-so-cuddly Terrier followed her into the room where she went to sit and think, and he tried to comfort her and be supportive - even though that was usually not in his nature.

Science Behind Dogs Sensing Sadness

Science of Can Dogs Smell Sadness?

When it comes to the science behind dogs smelling sadness, the evidence is a little murky. Dogs do have a very keen sense of smell. So, if there are changes with you biologically, in theory, your dog can smell that. However, actually smelling an emotion doesn’t seem like something they can do. 

More likely, your dog knows what you’re thinking based on your body language. There are varying ratios online about how much of human communication is nonverbal. However, it seems that a good chunk of our communication is through body language. 

Your dog knows you well, is very observant, and has keen senses that pick up very well on your body language. So, it’s more likely that if you’re sad, and your dog tries to comfort you, they know you’re sad because of your body language more than your smell. Dogs are also extremely loyal to their owners, so it’s not surprising that if they think you’re hurt, they would want to help you.

Keeping Your Dog's Senses Sharp

Training of Can Dogs Smell Sadness?

As far as training your dog to smell sadness, it’s not possible. However, you can always help your dog stay healthy which, in turn, will help keep their senses sharp. 

Make sure your dog gets plenty of nutritious food, drinks plenty of water, gets taken for walks as often as possible, and has a comfortable place to sleep. This will help to keep your dog healthy while communicating to him that you care about him. A few treats, and playing a few games with your pooch can’t hurt too. In fact, it is through bonding time that your dog will become better acquainted with your behavior, body language, and moods.

So, next time you’re feeling down, let your pooch comfort you, if they seek you out. It’s always nice to know that you’re not alone and that someone’s got your back.

How to React to Your Dog Knowing You are Sad:

  • Even though you feel blue, try to give your dog pets or other positive reinforcement so they know they are not the cause of your sadness.
  • Cuddle your pup, if they are into that. Them being there means they want to help you - so use that help!
  • If you are going through a period of sadness, strive to keep your dog's routine as best as you can. Going for walks can also help you to feel a bit more level-headed.