4 min read


Can Dogs Tell When You're Upset?



4 min read


Can Dogs Tell When You're Upset?


Have you ever had a terrible day where you feel like no one understands you? You’re not alone. Most people have been down in the dumps a time or two. On these days, sometimes it feels like nothing will make you feel better - and then your dog trots in. 

They might try to cuddle you, lick you, or just sit there quietly and let you pet them. For a moment, it might even seem like they understand you - but can they? Can a dog really tell if you’re upset? It’s a complex question. A dog might know something is different about you, but they might not understand why.


Signs Your Dog Knows You are Upset

So, how will a dog respond if they sense something is different about you? It really depends on the dog. However, in the research that has been done, many dogs show what can be characterized as “submissive” behaviors if they sense upset feelings, according to LiveScience. 

So, if your pup notices you crying, they might run over to you and stare at you. They might raise their ears and even tilt their head a bit. This is probably because they are listening to try and interpret what you are doing. Some dogs might even whine or try to jump up on you if they want to comfort you.

If your dog wants to comfort you, they will do a few other things. Some dogs will try to get your attention and give you the puppy eyes - which are very, very cute! They also might jump up next to you and try to cuddle with you. Some dogs have even been known to wag their tails as they look up at you to try and cheer you up, but it really depends on the dog and their personality. Usually, any way they acknowledge you in a time of need is greatly appreciated.

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice if your pup notices something different about you:

  • Staring
  • Head Tilting
  • Whining
  • Jumping Up
  • Raise Ears

Other Signs

Here are some signs you might notice if your pup is trying to comfort you:

  • Puppy Eyes
  • Cuddling You
  • Wagging Their Tail

History of Dogs Understanding Us


Historically speaking, humans have probably had emotions for as long as we can recall. It seems like perhaps dogs have emotions too, because they do whimper, whine, and cry sometimes, themselves. There also has to be a reason they call a dog “man’s best friend.” Could they possibly empathize with us? Perhaps.

A former dog owner recounted a time when her pup seemed to know how sad she was feeling, and he seemed to want to help her. She had a pretty lousy day, and when she got home, she went in her room and started to cry. Her pooch nuzzled his way through her slightly cracked bedroom door and looked up at her sitting on her bed. 

He cocked his head to one side, wagged his tail, and jumped up next to her. He crawled into her lap and nuzzled her. He didn’t leave until she stopped crying. Even then, it seemed like he waited for her to calm down before he went back to the kitchen to see other members of the family.

There are many, many stories like this one all over the internet. Dogs, from experience, do seem to understand at the very least that something isn’t right with their “best friend” when they are sad, but does this theory hold up scientifically?

Science Behind Dogs Knowing We are Upset


Scientifically, dogs dog have quite an arsenal of senses. Particularly, their senses of hearing and smell are absolutely amazing. For example, did you know that a dog can hear 40-60,000 Hz, whereas humans hear only 20 and 20,000 Hz? 

On top of that, dogs’ noses are built to take in scents and analyze them. In fact, according to Animal Planet, dogs have “220 million olfactory receptors” and an array of other precious parts of their noses that make them excellent smellers. One of these items is the Jacobson's organ. The Jacobson's organ makes it so a dog can taste and smell at the same time.

Not every dog has this organ, but the ones that do, use it to mainly smell animal pheromones. Sometimes puppies use it to find their mother’s milk too.  So, it can be very important. 

Dogs are also extremely observant of humans’ every movement. They know your routine, your likes, dislikes, and what you’re likely to do next. So, with their great senses of hearing and smell coupled with their observant nature, are dogs able to tell when you’re upset? It seems like it. 

Something interesting to note, though, is scientists aren’t sure if dogs understand and empathize with human emotions, even if they seem to recognize something seems to be off with their human family member.

Training Your Dog to Sense When Someone is Upset


Are you interested in training your dog to understand when you’re upset? Most dogs seem to come with some abilities to do this on their own. So, it’s important to maintain a strong bond with your pup by spending quality time with them, giving them plenty of nutritious food, and generally giving them the love and attention they deserve. There are trainers that train service dogs to understand when a person is in distress and to help that person. It might be a bit difficult to do this on your own, as it takes an experienced trainer to train a dog properly. So, if you’re interested in a service dog, speak with a professional.

So, can dogs tell when you’re upset? It certainly seems like it. At the very least, they seem to want to be comforting in times of need, which is great for bonding you and your pup together.

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Written by Katie Anderson

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 05/30/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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