Can Your Dog Understand Human Emotions?

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Dog are easy to love, with their big, bright eyes, floppy ears and wagging tails. Most animal lovers find them simply irresistible and make them a special part of family life. We’ve learned to understand they have a language all of their own as they greet you at the door after a long day at the office, or sit quietly by your side if you need a little peace. Dogs are amazing and without a doubt “man’s best friend.” 

So when you are having a bad day or are happy because you just won the lottery -  how do you know your dog understands your emotions? Let’s take a trip down a fun and informative road as we uncover clues and mis-truths about this intriguing subject. What we’ve found might surprise you!

Introduction of Can Your Dog Understand Human Emotions?

Signs Your Dog Is Aware of Human Emotions

Dogs take in our facial expressions and listen to the tone of our voice. This tells them how we are feeling and how they should respond. Experts think dogs show empathy to your emotions in a form of mimicking another person's facial recognition, known as emotional contagion. Some of us may not be conscious of instantly having a sad look when a friend tells us some bad news. You might have gone to their workplace feeling upbeat but soon you were mirroring their emotion, perhaps out of courtesy or an instantaneous reaction you couldn’t control.

Monkeys have this ability, and so do dogs. What an amazing thought, knowing your Westie Terrier frowns when you frown, or your Basenji Hound lifts her eyebrows and tilts her head the same as you do. Imagine the fun and learning to be had seeing how the mirror concept works.

If you’re paying attention, a lot can be learned from the facial expressions and movements your aware dogster makes. The psychology of canines has thrown a curve ball into the mix, as we examine with fresh eyes what that wagging tail, staring eyes or whining truly means. 

If it’s a happy wag, your bestie-dog will move their tail to the right, while if it’s negative, watch him wag it dubiously to the left. You can’t emulate that one, but if your eyes are wide and cheerful, check out how your pugs might be too. They say emotions are contagious, so watch your fur baby whine out loud if you shed a few tears watching a chic flick - or if you are arguing with the boyfriend, your Beagle buddy might be pacing up and down or copying your behaviors by growling at the cat. He’ll be listening intently and cowering at every angry word.

"Not in front of the dog" could be a better way, as he’ll take on board every expression and sound. Just like kids who enact out their parents not getting along, your woofer will become fearful or naughty as he mirrors the negativity in the home.

Dogs show their feelings with body language and facial signs and the closer you are to Rover the stronger the connection will be.

Body Language

Here are some signs that dogs show when they understand human emotions:
  • Staring
  • Head tilting
  • Whining
  • Cowering
  • Wag tail

Other Signs

More signs your dog is understanding your emotions are:
  • Pacing
  • Mimicking
  • Eyebrow lifting
  • Frowning

The History of Dogs Understanding Emotions

History of Can Your Dog Understand Human Emotions?

Dogs can understand human emotions, and it’s likely their domestication over time has played a part in learning human ways.

Our super-hero pups originate from wolves, with new DNA studies suggesting our family dogsters may have appeared in Europe from 19,000 to 32,000 years ago. A study of 18 ancient wolf and dog-type animal fossils showed a similar genetic code to the modern day wolves, coyotes and breeds of dogs giving credence to this theory. 

It was long thought domesticated dogs came from Asia some 15,000 years past as seen in “Time Magazine,” where another study has cited the beginnings of dogs becoming the family pet in Nepal and Mongolia. It is clear "man’s favorite friend" came in out of the wild when humans began hunting in their patch, and in order to survive, aligned with the stronger species. The debate as to where your Rat Terrier or Maltichon (Bichon Frise/Maltese) were first sighted, continues to inspire.

If dogs are the direct descendants of wolves, it makes you wonder if wolves, too, can understand human emotions. We know they grieve for lost loved ones in the same way and have an array of facile expressions, like their doggy offspring. Could it be that dogs inherited this ability to sense human feelings from their wolf ancestors? Or has this unique understanding evolved from making Rover a family pet?

“The Dodo” reported a pack of wolves mourning a lost companion with their tails and heads hung low while singing a quiet song of grief - much the same way we as humans grieve for a close friend or family member. It is evident dogs are emotional beings with a moral aptitude similar to ours, so it’s not hard to understand how they can read what we are feeling and experiencing.

Can dogs understand what we say? That would be a unanimous YES according to a study in Hungary where researchers discovered dogs can comprehend most of what we say. Up until now, it was thought our sweet, Shih Tzu pup responded only to our tone of voice.

Thirteen dogs were MIR scanned while researchers spoke various words to them, concluding our marvelous mutts process speech in a similar way to us humans - and therefore are a lot smarter than previously thought. The “Huffington Post” article went on to say the dogs were able to equate the sound of a word with its actual meaning, causing a wave of excitement for dog lovers and science.

History shows the connection between man and his best friend is intimate, involving a shared ability to understand words and feelings!

Science Proves That Dogs Understand Human Emotions

Science of Can Your Dog Understand Human Emotions?

Science has long thought primates were the closest to perceiving what we feel and say, but now the gloves are off as these die-hard seekers of the truth are proving our dog-pals have the same cognitive ability.

 Oscar, your adorable Maltese, is not just a pretty face, as he can figure out what you are feeling using his vast array of senses. This might make us all a bit more discerning with our communication knowing Oscar is hearing you loud and clear while soaking up your emotive messaging like a sponge. 

This evokes the entire concept of animal welfare and begs to differ with the United Kingdom’s Government recent passing of a bill to proclaim that animals “have no emotions or feelings and cannot feel pain”. This shocker statement was recorded by the “UK Independent,” who wisely points out that Science is proving quite the opposite. Actions like this send us back to the dark ages and animals with awareness scurrying to hide in the caves.

“The New York Times,” reports a study of dogs and their brain function by a neuroeconomics professor, who now believes “Dogs are people too.” The Professor found neurological evidence that our pet-pals observe a consciousness and emotion, not unlike humans. This phenomenon happens in a part of the brain referred to as the caudate nucleus, and by measuring activity in this region he was able to see how dogs reacted to certain stimuli they found positive. Many things that activated the caudate in humans did the same in the dogs that were tested. 

Science is proving without a reasonable doubt, that dogs have the same emotional response as a small child and form unique attachments to people like we do. This brings into view the way we treat our fellow canines and perhaps the time is NOW to honor them with the same integrity, justice and respect we demand from each other.

Other animals that are deemed to understand human emotion are monkeys, partially cats, horses and pigeons

Training Dogs to Understand Emotion

Training of Can Your Dog Understand Human Emotions?

We have finally been given the nod by scientists that our dogs can understand our emotions on their own, so why not take training to the next level and teach our dogs to talk!

For the skeptics comes a story from “USA Today” about a killer whale that has learned to say hello and bye-bye. Wikie has learned to mimic her trainer at Marineland Aquarium in Antibes, France  - showing the world how tuned to us animals really are.

If a killer whale can master human speech is it possible a dog could also? This is a great question that opens up a door some might prefer stayed shut. If dogs could talk, they would probably have a lot to say, including their thoughts about how we run this world.

It’s said that people who constantly chat to their dogs form a deeper bond, as your Papillion-pal understands words, their meaning and the emotion that goes with it.

Meet Chaser, an intelligent Border Collie who knows over a thousand words! His trainer and owner, a retired professor of psychology, has verified that dogs are capable of understanding our language way beyond the basics of sit, stay and come. Plenty of the top guns in the field of science have come to test this miracle dog – including “Nova Science NOW” and a behavioral psychologist who works with wolves. 

This dog is so aware that if his owner asks Chaser to go with him, this clever Collie won’t budge an inch until he’s told exactly where they are going. If it’s to the local store Chaser is not that interested but if his pet parent mentions a person he loves visiting, Chaser is rearing to go. Like people, he understands the concept of choice and knows the words and emotion being conveyed. This remarkable tale of training appeared in the popular “Dogster Blog”.

Teaching a dog to master this many words (and the emotions that go with them) takes time, skill and a whole lot of patience. Using play as a reward means your pup will never tire of learning. Thanks to wonderful people like Chaser's guardian, we can discover the doggy-star repertoire of understanding they possess. For a dog to integrate the human language and make it his own - we’ve crossed a bridge of canine awareness, from which there is no return.

Do dogs understand human emotions? You bet they do!

How to React When Your Dog Responds to Your Emotions

  • Give your dogster pal all the love you can muster.
  • Show him you appreciate his understanding when you are happy or sad.
  • Give him treats to show your appreciation.
  • Play ball in the park.
  • Spend some quality time bonding.
  • Give him a huge doggy hug.