Have you ever been happy, sad, angry, or stressed around your dog and wondered if they know how you are feeling? Has your dog ever come over to you as if to be saying, “Hey, it’s okay, I’m here for you”? As humans, it’s easy for us to wonder if our pets are behaving a certain way because of how we feel. Dogs, too, experience similar feelings of happiness, melancholy, stress, and fear like us.
Because dogs are social animals, they seem to be in sync with their human owners. We know how much joy and comfort our dogs can bring us, but what about our moods? Do our feelings rub off on our dogs?
Dogs communicate with nonverbal body language more so than verbal language. Whether it’s wagging their tail, showing their teeth, or pinning their ears, dogs are communicating different things to let us and other animals know how they feel. Because of this, dogs are expert body language readers, so while they may not know exactly what we mean when we vent to them about a bad day at work, they can pick up on our more subtle, non-verbal cues.
Additionally, dogs and humans have grown and worked together for thousands of years as they have become domesticated. This has helped shape our canine companions understanding of human expression and body language to be more in touch with us. Dogs look to their human companions for safety, care, and comfort just as much as we look for those things from them!
Research into dogs’ ability to truly understand human emotions remains ongoing, but many of them support that dogs do understand our feelings and expressions. Dogs will often react in similar ways to how we are behaving, such as when we are excited or feeling sad.
Even if dog's don’t know exactly why we’re sad, they can still recognize something is wrong and will often react to those feelings.
In another study, it was shown that dogs will actually pick up on their owners’ stress levels over a long period of time. Meaning dogs aren’t just feeling what we feel in a moment, but they continue to feel and be connected to, our feelings throughout their lives.
The study involved 58 dogs and their humans and tested the cortisol levels found in their hair through the summer and winter months. In addition, they had each owner fill out a questionnaire to gauge each dogs’ personality. The results determined that each dog and human’s cortisol levels were strongly correlated during both seasons and physical activity did not affect these results, meaning the cortisol levels were entirely mentally based. Moreover, each dogs' personality didn’t have much of an affect on their own cortisol levels, but their human’s personalities including significant traits like neuroticism, openness, and conscientiousness, did.
So, not only do dogs impact our mental health, but it seems like ours impact theirs as well. This is why it makes sense that your dog may “check in” on you when you’re upset and seems to celebrate with you when you’re feeling happy.
Dogs feel all the feels with us. So, the next time you’re feeling upset or stressed out, remember to keep your furry best friend in mind, too. After all, their mental health is important, too!
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