Can Dogs Tell When You’re Sad?

Written by Alan
Published: September 1, 2022
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Dogs are amazing creatures. However, if you’re wondering if your dog can tell whether you’re sad or happy, the answer is yes! In fact, there are many research studies, like the 2018 issue of the journal Learning & Behavior, stating that dogs respond to human faces that express six basic emotions – anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust –with changes in their gaze and heart rate. Are dogs just that good? Or does my dog know how to read my mind? So here’s what we know about this topic.

Dogs Have Feelings

I know—it’s hard to believe. But it’s true. Dogs are mammals like you and me, and they have a complex emotional system just like we do. They can experience deep joy, sadness, anger, and more. They even experience jealousy and guilt as people do.

But what makes dogs so special? What makes them so different from other animals? Well, here’s the deal: dogs are born with powerful empathy abilities that make them able to feel what others are feeling. That makes them great pets because they provide us with a sense of emotional well-being and they give us so much unconditional love.

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dog looking sad
Dogs have emotions just like the rest of us.

©Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com

Dogs And Emotions

Dogs can actually tell when you are happy, angry, and scared. It is known that they rely so much on their sense of smell for a lot of things but surprisingly seem to use their eyes more than we thought.

When it comes to reading human facial expressions and body language, dogs have a lot going for them. They can usually tell when you’re happy or sad even by just looking at your face. And if someone is angry in front of them? Well… that’s another story entirely. Different dogs react differently, depending on their breed and personality. Some might be afraid and hide behind their owner for protection and some might bark and growl at an angry person.

If you’re feeling down because of a stressful situation at work, you might notice your dog nudging you with his nose or sitting down next to you on the couch while staring at you with those adorable eyes. They are likely to approach people that seem to be in distress or crying as if they understand the pain that they are going through.

Do Dogs Act Differently Around Sad Owners?

If you’re sad, your dog might respond to you in a few different ways to show their sympathy but some owners might not notice them at times. First and foremost, they’ll probably want to comfort you by licking or nuzzling against your skin. This can help them feel more relaxed too. Dogs have been shown to be very sensitive to their owner’s emotions. If they sense that something is wrong, it’s likely that your pup will try and help out.

While there are some instances where dogs may become anxious when their owner is upset or frustrated, most dogs are happy to be close to their owners when they’re feeling down. If you’re having a rough day and need a hug from your pup, don’t be afraid to ask for one.! Just make sure that you do it in a calm manner so as not to scare them away (or worse).

Dogs also have the ability to read human body language very well. If we’re unhappy or irritated with someone or something around us, our eyes might give us away—and most dogs are able to pick up on these signals easily. If your dog senses that something isn’t quite right with you, they’ll probably try and comfort you in some way

Do Dogs Avoid Sad Owners?

Dogs may sometimes avoid a sad owner because they don’t know how to react. They may also avoid them simply because they don’t want to make their owner feel worse, or because they’re afraid of getting in trouble. For instance, if you’re sad and your dog is around you all day long, it can be very stressful for him/her because they can’t tell what’s going on. They are likely to tuck their ears and tail or avoid eye contact because they feel anxious. 

Too much stress and anxiety in dogs could amp up their adrenaline levels and could cause them to urinate immediately, lose control of their bowel, and even have diarrhea. So dog owners should reflect on their own actions to see whether they may be causing stress.

dog stressed
Again, like humans, dogs may avoid someone who is often sad, as it can stress them out.

©Patrick H/Shutterstock.com

Can Dogs Make You Feel Better If You’re Sad?

We all get them. Sometimes they last a few days, sometimes they last a few months, we all feel like we’re in one of those moods where nothing seems to work right and you feel like your mind is just going in circles… It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But remember that our dogs are here for us! 

They are known for being good listeners, and they can help you get out of a funk. If you feel down, your dog is always there when you need to talk. It might be because he or she knows how much better off you’ll feel if you have someone to listen to. Dogs can make us laugh and can also help with loneliness issues too—so don’t think twice about bringing one home for some extra company when things get rough. After all, they give you unconditional love for life. Nothing makes you feel better than cuddling up to your dog and absorbing all the love that they have for you. 

Your Dog Wants To Comfort You

Dogs are sensitive to human emotions. And it doesn’t take much for them to pick up on your sadness—they can sense it in you, and tell the truth, even in other dogs. They are able to tell when people are feeling sad by reading their body language and facial expressions. So if your dog seems unusually affectionate towards you at a time when you’re feeling down on yourself (or someone else), don’t be surprised!

Take note that some breeds seem more attuned than others: Bulldogs are people-oriented and they are naturally extremely sweet. Labrador retrievers make good companions and they will do anything for their favorite human. Chihuahuas have a bit of sass in between snuggles but they tend to have a very close bond with a person. Great Danes are gentle giants, they may tower over other dog breeds but they are actually very patient and friendly. It is important to consider your lifestyle, time, living space, and your ability as a fur parent before you choose the right dog breed.

beagle and owner
Dogs can sense your emotions. If they get the feeling you’re upset, they generally want to comfort you and cheer you up.

©Nina Buday/Shutterstock.com

Dogs Understand

They can detect when people are sad, angry, or happy just by looking at their faces. In addition to this ability to read human emotions, dogs also have the capability of reacting appropriately in order to help those around them feel better.

Dogs who have been taught that they should respond when their owners cry or get frustrated will often do so without prompting or even being asked (this is called “emotional regulation”). If your dog knows how you feel after hearing something upsetting on television then he may try to cheer you up by licking your face when he sees that look on your face for instance.

Dogs are amazing creatures, capable of great empathy and compassion. They can tell when we’re upset and want to help us—even if they don’t understand why. Just remember that your dog doesn’t know all the ins and outs of human relationships; he just wants his friend to be happy. So try to learn more about what makes you happy, so that your furry friend stays happy as well.

It seems that dogs are able to recognize when their owners are sad, and they may react accordingly. If you’re feeling down in the dumps right now, bringing your pup into the room might help lift your spirits.

Up Next…

Check out some of our other dog-related articles.

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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. National Geographic, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/yes-dogs-can-catch-their-owners-emotions#:~:text=A%20study%20in%20a%202018,their%20gaze%20and%20heart%20rate.
  2. AKC, Available here: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/advice/how-to-tell-if-your-dog-is-stressed/#:~:text=Stress%20signs%20to%20look%20for,eye%20contact%20or%20look%20away.