5 min read


Can Dogs Tell Human Emotions?



5 min read


Can Dogs Tell Human Emotions?


There is so much comfort in coming home at the end of the day to find your dear dog waiting for you, not just for a trip outside and some dinner, but for time with you. The comfort is not just in the friendly greeting, the wagging of the tail, and happiness to see you from your loving pet, but from the comfort your dog can show you if you've had a hard day. 

It just seems that your dog knows if you are feeling great or if you are sad. It's as if your pooch can tell how you are feeling. The comfort and companionship your dog provides to you is a very real reaction that reflects the quality of your very close human-canine bond.


Signs Dogs Understand Human Emotion

Have you ever felt your dog knows you better than you know yourself? Your dog anticipates your routines  - getting up at your wake up time, waiting at the door at your arrival home time, even signaling you when it is time to go to bed. Your dog seems able to interpret your facial expressions, body language, moods, and health. 

Knowing your dog well may involve some reciprocation. Just as you send signals of your feelings and needs, your dog is constantly sending signals to you. By paying attention to the context, your dog's disposition, and your dog's signals, you can anticipate your dog's needs. If you get good at reading your dog, you might be able to predict your dog's needs almost as well as your dog can read you.

There are behaviors we expect to see when our dogs are providing us with comfort. They will come to us. There will be nuzzling and the dog will rub up close to us to show affection. The dog may place their head in the person's lap or snuggle up. The dog will show signs of calming behavior. They will yawn, the eyes will blink, and the dog will look away. The tail and body will stay low. The dog will stay near, waiting for signs from you that you are feeling better.

Hanging out with your dog can be a great way to spend time. There are things your dog will do when having that quality time with you that will give you some indications of what your dog is feeling in that moment. 

Your dog may show you some love or let you know there is a feeling of insecurity by leaning on you. It is a sign of love and trust when your dog does this. Those puppy kisses are sweet but dog kisses are really great too, even if sloppy. When your dog licks your face, that is a sign of love for you. 

Do you want to play? Your dog will bring you a favorite toy as an invitation for fun. Have you ever seen your dog lift their left eyebrow? This means your dog loves you. It's a pretty neat signal! Watch for it when you see your dog peeking at you with the left eyebrow up. When your dog snuggles up, it is a sign of affection. Signs of love with your dog are a pleasure and a special honor that the two of you share. 

Body Language

Some clues your dog may give that show that they understand your emotions are:

  • Yawning
  • Lip Licking
  • Low Tail Carriage
  • Blinking

Other Signs

More things that prove your dog understands you are:

  • Nuzzling Up
  • Leaning On You
  • Kissing You
  • Invitations To Play
  • Raising The Left Eyebrow

The History of Dogs Understanding Human Emotions


The dog has been domesticated to live with man over the course of centuries. It has been thought that wolves are social animals and have traits that made them more likely to be cooperative with man than other mammals. 

Researchers have found that dogs and wolves have the traits of high social attentiveness and tolerance and this made them receptive to cooperating with mankind. When humans and dogs are near to one another, there are changes in body chemistry and the somatosensory system, which involves the sense of touch, warmth, cold, and pain. Touch is linked to the neural systems for bonding and increases the neural development of the brain. Touch stimulates the release of oxytocin, the love hormone. There seems to be a biological connection between man and dog that endures through time.

The Science of Dogs Telling Human Emotion


Dogs use their amazing senses to read us. As humans, we tend to rely heavily on our vision to first detect what is going on with others. The dog has a sensory advantage in detecting what we are feeling. There is the dog's keen sense of smell. The dog can detect chemical changes in your body, hormones that are triggered by emotional states, through the sense of smell. 

The dog can also watch your facial expressions and body language as cues to your emotions and actions. There is also sound. Your voice will change in pitch, rhythm, and tone based on emotions. 

Researchers have established that dogs have a cognitive understanding of human emotion. A team of animal behavior experts and psychologists at the University of Lincoln, UK, and University of Sao Paulo, Brazil,  published their findings in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters.

Seventeen dogs were presented with positive (happy or playful) and negative (angry or aggressive) emotional expressions in humans and dogs. The faces were paired with vocalizations that were both consistent and inconsistent with the facial expressions. The researchers found that the dogs spent more time staring at the faces of both human and animal if the facial expression matched the vocalization.  The findings are interpreted as meaning that dogs have mental representations of positive and negative emotional states of others.

In another study, Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer, from Goldsmiths College in London, decided to test if their dogs were truly empathetic to their owners. The researchers went to the homes of the dogs and their owners. The researchers and owners took turns making crying or humming noises. The dogs consistently went to the person who was crying. The dogs went to both the owner and the stranger when they heard the crying. The finding was interpreted as indicating the dogs were, indeed, empathetic to the emotions of humans. 

Training Your Dog to Understand Emotion


Pups need to have good socialization experiences to have good behavior and strong bonds with humans. From 7 weeks to 4 months of age is the ideal window for the socialization of the pup. Socialization involves making your dog familiar with touch and a range of sights, sounds, and situations. This will help your pup to be less fearful and more adaptable.

There are a wide variety of exposures that will help your puppy. These include other people, other animals, traveling, weird things, different sounds, being restrained, being touched, different sensations, and water interaction.

  • Always be positive with your pup. Use small treats to reward your pup. Check your own emotions to make sure you are not sending signals of your own anxiety in situations. Be a calm example. 
  • Take baby steps. Start small and gradually expand the exposures. 
  • Involve the family. Give your family opportunities to touch and play with the pup. 
  • Make sure your pup is vaccinated and then expand your pup's circle from the home into the larger community.

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By a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Published: 05/22/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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