You’re depressed. Your dog seems to be acting differently toward you. Can dogs sense depression and anxiety? Yes, many studies show that dogs can pick up on emotions such as sadness and will react accordingly to improve their human mood.
How Can Dogs Sense Depression and Anxiety?
Dogs use many of their senses to detect depression in their human.
Can dogs smell sadness? Yes, dogs can smell sadness! Hormones related to sadness (norepinephrine) and stress (cortisol) are released when people become depressed. Dogs can smell that hormone production – the increase and decrease of it.
Crazy, but true.
When dogs sense a change in their owner, they immediately pay attention. They usually spend more time next to their owner to protect them from whatever it is that is happening. When they sense the decrease in hormone production, they feel better about the situation and return to their normal behavior.
Dogs can recognize human emotions from facial expressions. When people smile because they are happy, they know they are okay. When people scream because they are mad, they know something isn’t okay. Of course, that also means when someone is sad, their dog can see that too from the typical expressions – tears, long face, etc.
Just as dogs can sense depression from seeing facial expressions, they can also understand the tone of a person’s voice. A happy, excited tone is comforting to a dog. A loud, aggressive tone is alarming to a dog. A low, meek tone signals to a dog that the person is depressed.
Dogs’ Mental Abilities and Emotional Intelligence
Studies indicate that a dog’s mental ability and emotional intelligence are similar to a human’s during the toddler stage of life. They are sensitive to emotional changes but don’t understand what the person is feeling. Since they don’t understand, they provide comfort in the only way they know how – remaining close.
You can learn more about this in the article Can dogs sense autism in humans?
Human Emotions Study
A study published in Animal Cognition Journal found that dogs quickly exhibited submissive body language when they saw their owner crying and humming. Researchers conducted the study in the dog’s home to keep the environment comfortable for the dog so as to not alter that variable. The dog owners were instructed to cry AND hum, which was a new combination of behavior for the dogs. The dogs reacted just as was hypothesized. There was a significant change in their bodies and behaviors (tail between the legs, slowly approaching the pet owners, and remaining close).
How Dogs Show Empathy
A 2018 study found that dogs’ gaze and heart rate changed when they noticed changes in an emotional state, including:
Dogs also show they know you’re depressed or anxious by rubbing up against you. You can learn more about this by reading: What Does It Mean When a Dog Rubs Against You?
Dogs are highly supportive of their humans, so much so that they may begin to feel similar emotions. For instance, when a pet owner is anxious, a dog may also start to experience anxiety. The anxiety may present itself with restlessness, remaining close to their owner, barking a lot, etc. The same goes for depression.
Dog depression presents itself much like the human form. The dog may sleep more, not engage in activities they usually enjoy, not eat, etc. Most pet owners can detect their dog’s depression right away and will do whatever it takes to make the situation better. Go for a walk, give a treat or take their dog for a ride in the car.
A Dog’s Depression: Experiencing or Catching?
People can argue that a pet dog doesn’t “catch” depression, but rather is suffering from depression alongside its owner. For instance, if there’s a major change of environment (moving) someone may be feeling sad about leaving their other living space, and so is the dog. The dog’s depression may not necessarily be their owner’s depression, but their own due to the stress of moving.
This can be seen in the case of a new baby joining the family. Many dogs become depressed when a new baby comes home because they don’t feel they are getting the attention they once received. Since dogs don’t understand it’s a common part of life to add family members, they often suffer from dog depression much more easily.
Although, there’s a case for people who suffer from depression and then their dog seems to be depressed. A dog’s behavior can fall in line with its owners over time. Even health issues may start to come up just like they do when humans are depressed, especially when a dog doesn’t eat enough and doesn’t get enough sleep (both signs of dog depression).
Do Dogs Sense Depression?
The answer to the question: Do dogs sense depression is yes! They can sense it and smell depression. Rest assured the comfort your dog is giving you is because your dog knows you’re depressed and/or anxious.
Can Dogs Detect Depression in Other People?
Yes, dogs can detect depression in other people. Dogs don’t have to have a bond with someone to be able to sense depression or anxiety.
Happy Owners ~ Happy Dogs
The motto of Dog Ownership Guide is Happy Dogs ~ Happy Owners, but in this case, it’s Happy Owners ~ Happy Dogs. Since dogs have an innate sense of their human feelings and emotions, they also suffer from human suffering.
The mind and body are precious to every single living thing in this world. We must take care of ourselves, especially when we have other bodies to take care of – our dogs.
If you’re suffering from anxiety and/or depression, do whatever it takes to get the help you need from your doctor. Take care of your mental health, so you can take care of your dog’s mental health.
Temporary sadness and depression are normal in life. In times of trouble, receive support from your dog to feel better. It’s one of the many wonderful benefits of dog ownership. It will also help your dog feel better about how you’re feeling.
Love yourself. Love your dog. Love each other.
While we’re at it. Check out the article on: Is My Dog Happy?