6 min read


Can Dogs Tell if You're Depressed?



6 min read


Can Dogs Tell if You're Depressed?


We owe a debt of kindness to our aware woofers who defy critics by offering their paw in compassion and a continual line of support. When a person is lonely and feeling down, not everyone understands, but you can bet their dog does, as they sense the emotion and respond with care. These emotional magnets enter the lives of those who suffer the often torturous feelings of depression and give them a reason to continue on. 

Some are trained while others generously to give around the clock care to folks struggling with depression and other mental disorders. We really are blessed that dogs are our companions who never fail to impress with their empathetic hearts. 

Read on for a fascinating insight into how dogs feel your depression and can help you!


Signs a Dog Knows You are Depressed

Depression is comparable to having no anchor and being constantly adrift at sea, as the waves of emotion leave a person feeling desolate and alone. It’s a journey of the self and difficult for others to comprehend. Imagine feeling a constant knot of helplessness in the pit of your stomach. You feel trapped in a roller-coaster of moods and of no value. This serious mental disorder has seen people give up until they are administered medication to lift their battered spirits.

If you suffer from depression and have a Maltese, Foxy or Labrador, you may have noticed how nurturing they are when you are feeling low. Being gifted with the ability to sense your emotions, a dog can be a true friend that doesn’t judge you and will offer their paw in sympathy.

We all have times in our life when we feel depression, and this can be due to a traumatic event like a divorce or a passing in the family. Have you been aware how your pooch responds when you are sitting, quietly crying? They may tilt or lay their head in your lap while whining in unison. Dogs are perceptive and caring souls who are always interested in their human guardians.

They may go and fetch a toy and play bow at your feet, wanting to lift your mood or bark as if to break the depressive spell. They can’t talk our human lingo but they let us know in ways that touch the heart.

Hello Giggles tells an inspirational tale of two Cocker Spaniels named Lucy and Andie who were a rock to their pet-mom as she struggled with bouts of depression. She tells us her dogs would wake her every morning with their tails wagging and tongues hanging out, ready for their walk. On particularly bad days, one of her dogs would lick the tears from her eyes and lie quietly beside her.

The unconditional love her woofers offered helped this woman navigate the dark days of depression as she walked more and felt less anxious when talking to other people. Her dogs were angels in furry bodies and made a debilitating disorder easier to deal with. Dogs can feel your depression and answer the call by not allowing their pet-mom or dad to wallow in a sea of apathy.

Body Language

Signs a dog can sense depression are:<br/>

  • Barking
  • Head Tilting
  • Whining
  • Wag Tail
  • Paw Raised
  • Licking
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

Signs a dog can help with depression include:<br/>

  • Helping The Owner Be More Social
  • Encouraging Time Outside
  • Offering Unconditional Companionship
  • Comforting Their Depressed Guardian
  • Understanding Human Emotions
  • Smelling Hormonal Changes

History of Dogs Helping Humans with Depression


The National Alliance on Mental Illness informs us that around 40 million adults are afflicted with depression and are advocates for dogs being a great help. They are aware how valuable the family pooch is in getting a depressed person out for walks and socializing with people they meet. Looking after their Poodle, Bichon or Pug is a tonic in itself, as it gives a person wanting to hide away a purpose and belief that they are worthy of this dogs love. 

The term melancholia was used to describe depression in Mesopotamian times and Mental Help tells us the ancient Greeks and Romans thought a depressed person had been invaded by evil spirits. Hippocrates, also referred to as the “father of medicine”, was a little closer to the truth with his thinking that mania (depression) was connected to body fluids, while Cicero, an ancient Roman politician and a powerful orator, was adamant that melancholia was indeed a state of mental health.

Following this revelation, mental illness became a war of words as religions and theorists offered their thoughts from witchcraft to locking people up in asylums. Thank goodness the world has changed with medication and compassion being the mainstay of helping folks with this mental illness. There is still a hangover from past thinking and that’s why dogs are such angelic helpers with their refreshing paws-on approach to mankind's state of mind.

In the 1930’s, Sigmund Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis, saw the positive effects his Chow Chow, named Jo-fi, had on his patients, while in the 60’s when youthful revolution was ripe - child psychologist, Boris Levinson, highlighted the magical effect his dog named Jingles had on kids who found it difficult to communicate.

Science Proves Dogs Understand Human Emotions


Over the centuries of getting to know us, dogs have taken on the huge job of becoming our companions and work-mates. Studies in recent times have shown the miraculous way our woofers can read and interpret our emotions. They know when we feel pain, sadness, happiness, and deep depression.

According to National Geographic, studies carried out to compare behaviors of wolves in captivity and domesticated dogs resulted in wolves still retaining an aloof attitude toward people while dogs were friendly and sociable. This led some researchers to ask the question "why?" The answer was in the genetics of both species and it seems Beagles, Collies, and all breeds of pooches carry a version of two genes referred to as GTF21 and GTF2IRD1.

Without these genes, people are known to have Williamson Syndrome, a developmental disorder that causes changes in facial features, learning issues, and a more hospitable attitude to others than most. Scientists think this could explain why our pooches seem to love humans so much.

According to The Huffington Post, a study carried out by researchers from Lincoln University, UK and Sao Paulo University blew open the kennel door and challenged the skeptics who deny dogs ability to understand human emotion.

By showing canines images of sad, angry and happy people and then matching the pictures with matching sounds, the researchers were amazed to see woofers pairing up the sounds with the images. They also introduced pictures of dogs with woofing tones to match and the same thing happened. These smart pooches showed us human folks that they can tell a lot from our voices and facial expressions. Researchers concluded that dogs are more than capable of recognizing different emotions in humans. 

Training Dogs to Help People with Depression


Therapy and psychiatric service dogs perform wonders for people struggling to cope with depression. Where most of us have our ups and downs, there are those that can’t find the way out of a deep well of despondency.

That’s where Psychiatric Service Dogs trained to perform everyday tasks like making sure their handlers take their medication, guide them through times of disorientation, and be there 24/7 -  are an amazing support.

Some marvelous mutts with no training at all seem to know what to do when their owners are depressed. The Telegraph tells the story of Jane, who was floundering until a cute puppy called Zorro entered her life. This Jackapoo (Jack Russell Terrier/Poodle) altered her perception. Zorro helped Jane to become social with her community and laugh again. She believes Zorro has been the best cure for her depression.

Emotional therapy dogs are making the world a brighter place for people who’ve lost their mojo, somewhere in the depths of depression. An energetic, fun-loving pooch can turn a dark mood around with their ability to smell the hormonal changes that take place in their guardian's body. High levels of cortisol can be released into the bloodstream during a depressive mood.

Having a dog helps reduce anxiety, encourages more exercise and gets folks who feel disconnected, out and about. Loneliness can plague people in a depressed mode as it's not always easy to engage family and friends in this state of being. Dogs with their soulful eyes can take in your emotions and help you manage your life and the effects of depression

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Written by a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/01/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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