Can Dogs Sense your Emotions?


Sometimes there are days where nobody seems to understand me. Well, I take that back —nobody aside from my best friend. He’s quiet and has his quirks like running around in circles, sniffing random objects, or chasing birds out of our yard. But he gets me, you know? Of course, I’m talking about no other than my dog because the phrase, ‘man’s best friend’ wasn’t coined for no reason!

Part of the reason dogs “get us” is that they are such empathetic creatures. They can sense our emotions sometimes better than we recognize them ourselves. But how well can our dogs truly know us? Read on to find out.



They Can Learn Our Personality Traits 

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, researchers examined the questionnaires provided by dog owners that detailed questions about themselves and their dog’s personalities. 

The study examined over 1600 dogs, all with different breeds, sexes, and ages ranging from months up to 15 years. These findings ultimately led to significant data that showed a commonality between pet and parent (Miller et al., 2020). For instance, more active individuals reported that their dogs exerted more energy. At the same time, owners who indicated that they considered themselves pessimistic revealed that their dogs didn’t respond well to training or exhibited more reserved behaviors. The takeaway is that our emotional state can have a big impact on our dogs. The researchers also noted that exposure to obedience classes saw a correlation with more positive traits in dogs regardless of their previous personalities.


They Mimic Our Behavior 

Ever catch yourself yawning and then glance over to your pet and see him or her mimic you? Research suggests that your dog may mimic behaviors they see you do. Friederike Range, PhD, worked with other researchers at the University of Vienna to show whether dogs would imitate their owners shutting a glass door. One group of dogs received a treat if they were able to mimic the owner getting on their hands and knees and shutting the door with one hand, while the others weren’t given a treat. To their surprise, the researchers found that both groups of dogs were able to mimic what their owners showed them, whether they received a treat or not.

Range says that these findings could be used in dog training in the future. If you want to teach your dog to do something, you may have better luck physically showing them what you want them to do first.


Photo by Ines Opifanti



They Want to Comfort Us When We’re Sad 

Like, I said above, dogs just seem to understand us, right? When researchers evaluated dogs’ responses to their dog parents crying, they found that they elicited an increase in cortisol levels in dogs and humans (Custance and Mayer., 2012). When their owner would cry, their dog would approach and engage in licking or nuzzling behaviors towards their owner. These results demonstrated that a human crying could prompt the dog to recognize and react to the emotional change, generating an increased stress response because of the difference in their owner’s mood

They Can Read When We’re Stressed 

If pets interpreting our personality wasn’t enough, pets can also intuitively tell when we’re stressed. In fact, according to a study investigating the long-term cortisol (stress) levels of dogs and their dog parents, they found that the cortisol levels synchronized with their pet parents (Sundman et al., 2019). So if you notice your dog stressing out, check with yourself and ask if you might need to relax a bit too.





They Notice When You’re Happy 

Researchers have recently discovered that dogs can even determine the difference in our facial expressions, and may also be able to understand them (Muller et al., 2015). The experiment individually revealed the eyes, mouths, and left half of the face of either a smiling or angry individual. Half of the pup participants were rewarded for recognizing the happy expressions, while the others were rewarded for identifying the individuals who appeared upset (Muller et al., 2015). The study showed that the pups were able to discriminate between the two feelings faster than the group rewarded for the frowning expressions. 

It turns out we’re learning a lot from our furry friends too! In fact, 92% of pet parents in the U.S. say their dog has made them a better person in at least one aspect. I find that aside from the undeniable fact that dogs are just awesome, it looks like we’re learning a lot from them too. One thing’s for sure, we couldn’t ask for a better furry friend to grow alongside us. Sign up to become a Spotter for more on why dogs truly are “man’s best friend”. 

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