Do Dogs Know When You Are Sad?

Dogs are far more intuitive than people realize and form lifelong bonds with their owners.

Previous scientific thought has suggested dogs can respond to their owner crying, purely through the sounds.

A study in 2019 said dogs manipulate their facial expressions to better communicate with humans.

However, other discussions have suggested dogs can go even further to notice their owners' anguish.

Do dogs know when you're sad?

A study in 2016 from the University of Lincoln, U.K., suggested dogs can recognize human emotions.

In the research, 17 domestic dogs listened to sounds paired with images in different combinations, showing positive or negative emotional expressions.

According to Science Daily, the dogs spent a great deal longer looking at facial expressions when the image and sounds matched, both for human and canine subjects, suggesting the dogs understood the emotions being shown.

Researcher Dr. Kun Guo said: "Previous studies have indicated that dogs can differentiate between human emotions from cues such as facial expressions, but this is not the same as emotional recognition.

"Our study shows that dogs have the ability to integrate two different sources of sensory information into a coherent perception of emotion in both humans and dogs.

"To do so requires a system of internal categorization of emotional states.

"This cognitive ability has until now only been evidenced in primates and the capacity to do this across species only seen in humans."

Another study in 2018, by researcher Emily Sanford, senior study author Julia Meyers-Manor and others at Ripon College, Wisconsin, showed that not only do dogs know when you are sad, but they also want to save their owners.

In the study, 34 dogs and owners were separated, and owners placed behind a clear door where they had to ask for help every 15 seconds, between which they would either cry or hum a tune.

Their cry for help was to be asked in either monotone or distressed voices, to see if dogs could recognize when their owners were in trouble.

The study showed dogs seemed to understand when their owners were in peril, and ran to their aid, even opening a closed door to get to their owners.

Meyers-Manor told Live Science: "Dogs want to be with their owners, so even in our condition where the dogs were exposed to humming, they still, about half the time, went to their owners.

"It seems like the dogs [who didn't go through the door] would get more and more stressed by the crying but that they then sort of became paralyzed and [were] not able to do anything."

It is clear, therefore, that dogs respond to their owners' upset and distress, and understand our emotions, both visibly and audibly.

King Charles spaniel puppy in a field
File Photo: King Charles spaniel puppy in a field. Dogs have been shown to understand when humans are upset Getty Images

How do dogs show affection?

According to Sanford, the study proves the science behind some ways in which dogs show affection, including "licking their face" and coming to their owners' rescue.

In a statement, Sanford added: "Every dog owner has a story about coming home from a long day, sitting down for a cry and the dog's right there, licking their face.

"In a way, this is the science behind that.

"Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they've learned to read our social cues...

"Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea, and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action."

There are many other ways for dogs to show their affection, including guarding their owners, getting visibly excited when hearing their name and by "herding."

Michelle L. Szydlowski, veterinary technician and an anthrozoology instructor at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, told Insider: "Herding is a way of showing affection for the 'pack.'

"For example, if someone in the family or another pet steps off the sidewalk, some dogs will herd the wayward member back onto the sidewalk and safety."

She added: "Some dogs will lick your head and face desperately if they think you are unconscious or unresponsive."

A cavapoo puppy on a cushion
File photo: A cavapoo puppy on a cushion. Dogs spring into action to help their owners, according to research. Getty Images

How do dogs communicate?

Other than showing their affection in these ways, dogs also use non-physical communication, notably their eyes.

According to research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, dogs have evolved and adapted to have muscles specifically for communication with humans, compared to other similar animals like wolves.

Researchers told USA Today: "The movement makes the eyes appear bigger, hence more infant-like and potentially more appealing to humans.

"This inner brow raise also resembles a facial movement humans produce when they are sad, potentially eliciting a nurturing response from humans."

It seems as well as barking, showing physical affection and leaping in to save their owners, puppy-dog eyes also have a clear goal to help dogs connect more with their owners.

A dog with its owner at home
File photo: A dog with its owner at home. Dogs use puppy dog eyes as a way to communicate with their owners, research shows. Getty Images