Updated: Apr 9, 2022
Humans are extremely emotional creatures! Your partner knows all about it when you’re feeling grumpy or mad. Children can pick up when their parents are in a good mood or mad at them. And, friends know when their best buddy is happy or sad. But, can dogs pick up on their human owner’s emotions?
Studying my own dogs’ behavior in recent years has proved to me that my dogs certainly do pick up on my emotions. And, further research does indicate that I’m not in cuckoo land when I believe this! Your dog does pick up on your emotions, both happy and sad.
Scientists have been studying this phenomenon for a long time and they conclusively agree that your four-legged BFF certainly does recognize your moods. Is this a good thing or does it mean our doggies have to bear the brunt of our sorrows while cheering along when we’re joyful?
Read on to find out more about dogs and how they interpret the emotions of their owners.
Reading and Recognizing the Human Emotion
Researchers have been able to prove that dogs actually can read human emotions. They do this by checking out their owner’s facial expressions and linking them with any vocalization at the same time.
By combining visual and verbal signs, your dog is able to recognize your emotional state. They apply the same behavior when assessing another dog’s emotional state.
The same research believes that this ability is the reason why dogs have become domesticated over the years and in turn, relate well with their human owner. Your dog can sense your emotion through the tone of your voice, your body language, and your facial expressions. That’s how in tune they are with you!
How Do You Know if Your Dog is Picking Up on Your Emotions?
How do you know if your dog is picking up on your emotions? By being aware of the signs, you can gauge whether your dog is noticing your anxiety, sadness, or happiness. Your dog will tell you if he recognizes one of your emotions by:
Using his own body language such as wagging his tail when you’re happy or letting it droop when he knows you’re down.
Making sounds such as whimpering when you’re out of sorts.
Certain facial expressions such as that “woebegone” look in his eyes when he knows you’re sad.
Your dog relies a lot on your facial expression to determine your mood. Try out this experiment and learn to read the signs of whether your dog is picking up your mood or not:
Sit in front of your dog and put a huge smile on your face. Your dog will respond either by wagging his tail, bounding around in joy, or even jumping up to give your face a lick.
Put on a sad face and even say something using a sad voice. Your dog could respond by dropping his tail, curling up next to you, or looking at you with sad eyes.
By using your face as a mirror of all your emotions, your dog can tune into how you’re feeling. With their keen sense of hearing, they can also pick up your mood when listening to the tone of your voice.
Your Dog Has a Canny Ability to Determine Different Emotions
With his acute senses, your dog is able to pick up your fears, anger, and disappointment, as well as your happiness, peacefulness, and contentment. When you’re feeling fearful, your dog may become protective, clingy, or fearful himself.
Doggie owners who battle with anxiety have also noticed that their dogs become anxious. When I am sad and start crying, my dogs have always come to me to try and comfort me.
Your dog is able to determine different emotions based on what is happening in its environment. If a new baby is being introduced to the home, your dog will sense whether you’re feeling apprehensive, joyful, or simply tired. He'll adjust his behavior to match your emotion.
Each dog will show his reaction through different behaviors so watch out if your dog is picking up on negative emotions and shows it through growling or even biting.
A dog understands grief and will express this through howling whenever his owner is grieving the loss of someone. Other ways they show they're aware of your grief is by lying quietly next to their owner, going off by themselves and curling up tightly, or walking around with a "hangdog" appearance.
Dogs Can Give Emotional Support
By recognizing your emotions, your dog can give you emotional support. If you’re feeling anxious, your dog may come and lie quietly with you. His presence is often all you need to feel safe and comforted while struggling with your own emotions. The same may happen if you’re grieving or feeling angry.
When your dog picks up that you’re feeling fearful or are in danger, he’ll try to warn you and protect you. Guide dogs play a valuable role in keeping their visually-impaired owners safe and will give emotional assurance whenever they pick up their owner is feeling insecure in strange environments.
A guide dog is not only trained to keep its owner safe but he’s also intuitive enough to know when to give extra emotional support.
By being able to pet or cuddle your dog, you’re being provided with emotional support by your pet.
Emotional Support Dogs vs. Therapy Dogs vs. Service Dogs
"A service dog can provide many different kinds of assistance to a person with a disability. He can also provide companionship, loyalty and unconditional companionship, and love." - Your Dog Advisor
I didn’t realize that there were emotional support dogs vs. therapy dogs vs. service dogs! In my own personal experience as a partially blind person, I have been exposed to the incredible service dog and what they can do to help the physically disabled person.
I’m also aware of the therapy dog who assists in both psychological and physiological support by visiting individuals in hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers. But, discovering there were also emotional support dogs caught my attention.
The Role of the Emotional Support Dog
The emotional support dog is able to help people battling mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These dogs are “prescribed” by a mental health professional who has determined whether an individual needs such support.
The essential role of the emotional support dog is to offer comfort to its owner. These special dogs know when to stay close to their distressed owner by offering companionship or rubbing up close, inviting their owner to pet or stroke them.
I will always remember my aunt telling me as a child to stroke my dog whenever I was feeling sad. She told me that I would feel so much better after doing this and she was right every time! A dog instinctively knows this too and when they sense you’re feeling sad or anxious, they’ll offer themselves to you for comfort and solace.
It’s also known that having the responsibility of looking after a pet improves your mental health. So, having an emotional support dog as part of your depression treatment plan will give you a purpose to keep going every day.
This book by Max Matthews, "Service Dog: Training Your Own Service Dog and Psychiatric Service Dog Bundle" gives you all the tips and advice you need to train your own psychiatric service dog so you can enjoy life once more with your favorite companion.
Can Your Emotions Affect Your Dog’s Health?
When you’re happy, your dog is happy. When you’re calm, your dog will feel content. When you’re anxious, your dog will also show traits of anxiety. Being a doggie owner comes with its responsibilities and being an emotionally stable person certainly helps your dog feel happier.
However, if you’re an anxious person this doesn’t mean you’re an irresponsible owner. It simply means being aware of how your emotions may also make your dog feel anxious. When you notice your dog picking up on your negative emotions, try and find ways to reassure him.
A few weeks ago, I experienced extreme anxiety and as a result, our rescue dog became fearful. Instead of calming myself down and reassuring him, I continued to be anxious, heightening this little fellow’s own feelings. It took a day to settle him down again and I realized then how essential it was to be aware of my own emotions and how they can unsettle my precious dog.
If you suffer from anxiety or depression, one of the best things you can do for your dog is to maintain a routine. This includes feeding him at the same time every day, playing games with him, and taking him for his daily walk. Giving him lots of love and attention will also help him to cope with your anxiety.
This AWOOF Pet Snuffle Mat will keep your dog (and you) entertained for hours while distracting both of you from anxious feelings.
I also find giving my dog Rescue Remedy helps to settle his anxiety and I give myself a good dose of Tissue Salts 6 too!
Bach RESCUE REMEDY offers natural stress relief for pets and is safe to use.
Using crystals as an alternative form of healing is also beneficial for dogs who are sensitive to their owner's moods.
I know from my own personal experience that my dogs can pick up on my emotions. Keeping my emotions in check is not only good for me but also beneficial to my dog. Of course, it’s essential to experience your own emotions, whether they’re good or bad. Suppressing them won’t help you or your dog in the long run.
But, by being aware that dogs do recognize human emotions, you can become more responsible for your moods. This way, you get to work on your negative emotions while ensuring your dog is content and happy at the same time. Isn’t that what you want for your special four-legged friends?
This post was originally published on June 29th, 2021, and updated on April 6th, 2022.
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