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How Do Dogs Comfort You When You Are Sad? A Guide to Understanding Your Dog's Comforting Behaviors - PawSafe

How Do Dogs Comfort You When You Are Sad? A Guide to Understanding Your Dog’s Comforting Behaviors

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

How Do Dogs Comfort You When You Are Sad

How do dogs comfort you when you are sad? Dogs are often considered man’s best friend for a good reason. Not only are they loyal companions, but they also have a unique ability to sense and respond to human emotions. So if you’ve ever had a bad day, there’s a good chance your dog has come to comfort you somehow.

But how do dogs pick up on our emotions and what behaviors do they display to show they care? We’ll explore the research behind dogs sensing human emotions, common comforting behaviors, and how to encourage your dog’s comforting instincts. Since dogs invest so much into our well-being, make sure to return the favor by optimizing their health with the best canine multi-vitamin chews.

We will consult our expert source, Understanding Dogs by Clinton Sanders to help dive into this question. Now let’s take a closer look at your pup’s comforting behavior. We’ll also look at the benefits of a dog’s comforting presence, including reducing stress and anxiety and boosting mood and emotional well-being.

Dogs can pick up on human emotions through their senses. According to a study published in Animal Cognition states that dogs can detect emotional cues from human facial expressions, vocalizations, and body language. They can also pick up on changes in various hormones and they respond with various kinds of canine communication to help us.

Research has shown that dogs have high emotional intelligence, making them adept at reading human emotions. Dogs have evolved alongside humans for thousands of years and, as a result, have gained a unique understanding of our emotional states. In fact, there is really a ton of research just on dogs’ ability to understand and react to our emotions, like sadness, called canine empathy. So let’s get into it.

Ways Dogs Comfort Humans When They Are Sad

10 Ways Dogs Comfort Humans When They Are Sad

So, dogs are amazing animals that can provide emotional support and comfort to their human companions. But how do they do it? 

1. Nuzzling Our Necks

One of the heartwarming ways dogs comfort sad humans is through gentle nuzzling of our necks. This behavior demonstrates their desire for physical closeness and is a gesture of affection and reassurance. Dogs instinctively understand that this act can help alleviate stress and anxiety, providing a soothing effect that promotes feelings of safety and comfort.

Nuzzling is one of the most overlooked but prevalent ways dogs say I love you.

2. Staring Lovingly into Our Eyes

Unlike their interactions with other dogs, dogs often engage in direct eye contact with humans as an expression of love and trust. When they gaze into our eyes, it creates a profound connection that transcends language. This is called a “soft gaze”where you will not see the whites of a dog’s eyes. Dogs also use facial expressions, including their eyebrow to communicate their love to us when we are crying, sad, or upset.

This behavior is a testament to the deep emotional bond they share with their human companions, and it strengthens the sense of security and comfort we experience in their presence. While eye contact is threatening to other dogs, dogs hold eye contact with us because this releases bonding hormones in our brains.

3. Licking Our Faces

Although it may seem unappealing to some, a dog’s gentle lick on the face is an unmistakable display of affection and concern. By licking us, dogs mimic behaviors from their puppyhood when their mothers would groom them. This act is their way of nurturing and offering comfort, conveying their readiness to protect and care for us unconditionally.

In fact, you will often see dogs push their human’s hands away to gain access to their face, possibly to investigate any crying noises closer.

4. Placing Their Head or Paw On Us

When dogs place their head or paw on us, they are seeking physical contact and providing a reassuring touch. This behavior signifies their desire to offer support and empathy, as they instinctively sense when we are in distress or feeling down. Their simple presence, combined with this comforting gesture, can work wonders in alleviating our emotional burdens.

The video below is a typical example of Labrador comforting their owner, by placing their head and paw on the owner, laying against them, and staring lovingly into their eyes.

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/bfjkayg8vbs

5. Alerting Others to Our Distress

Dogs possess an exceptional ability to detect human distress, even when it may not be immediately evident. They have an acute sense of smell and heightened awareness of changes in our behavior and body language.

When they recognize signs of distress, they may bark, whine, or seek help from others to ensure we receive the assistance we need. It happens that crying babies will sometimes cause dogs to look for nearby adults to alert. In the video below, you can see a Golden Retriever try several behaviors when their owner fakes crying. At a loss, they eventually present their squishy toy in hopes of helping.

6. Pressing Their Bodies Against Us

A dog’s instinctive response to comforting us can be observed when they press their bodies against ours. This physical contact provides a sense of security and warmth, reinforcing the bond between human and dog. 

By doing so, dogs create a tangible barrier between us and potential threats, signaling their dedication to our well-being and their commitment to providing comfort in any way possible.

7. Prioritizing Us Over Anything Else

Dogs have an extraordinary ability to prioritize their human companions above all else. Studies show that when we are sad, they will prioritize coming to us over anything else in the area. This includes ignoring their favorite person, toys, or even food.

All of these behaviors that dogs engage in when we are sad are effective in helping us deal with feelings like grief, loss, loneliness and even depression. Let’s look at how. 

8. Increased Signs of Stress

When dogs are unable to reach their distressed owners or offer comfort, they often exhibit heightened signs of stress. Research has shown that dogs experience an increased heart rate when they hear their owners crying or expressing sadness. This physiological response indicates their genuine concern and their innate drive to provide support and solace in times of distress.

9. The Instinctive Need to Comfort

Dogs possess a natural instinct to provide comfort and seek proximity to their owners when they sense distress. When they cannot physically reach their crying owners, they may display signs of restlessness, vocalization, or increased anxiety. These behaviors stem from their deep-rooted desire to alleviate our suffering and ensure our emotional well-being.

10. Seeking Emotional Proximity

Observations have revealed that dogs instinctively seek out their crying owners when they are in distress. Their strong bond with us compels them to prioritize emotional proximity, as they are driven to provide comfort through physical contact and empathetic responses. Their actions convey a profound understanding of our emotional needs and a genuine intention to console us during challenging moments.

How Dogs Boost Our Moods When We Are Sad

How Dogs Boost Our Moods When We Are Sad

Dogs have been scientifically proven to boost our mood and well-being when we’re feeling down through several mechanisms. Firstly, interacting with dogs triggers the release of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine in our bodies. Oxytocin, often referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” promotes bonding and trust, creating a sense of comfort and emotional well-being. 

Serotonin is associated with feelings of happiness and can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Dopamine, known as the reward hormone, contributes to feelings of pleasure and can enhance our overall mood. The presence of a dog and the act of petting or playing with them can stimulate the release of these hormones, providing an instant mood lift.

Furthermore, dogs combat loneliness, a common emotion experienced during periods of sadness. Loneliness can have detrimental effects on mental health and well-being, but dogs offer companionship and unconditional love. Their loyal and affectionate nature provides a sense of emotional support, reducing feelings of isolation. 

Dogs are non-judgmental and offer a constant presence, creating a comforting and reliable relationship. Having a dog as a companion can significantly alleviate the sense of loneliness and improve our overall mood.

Additionally, dogs encourage us to move, which contributes to a boost in our mood. Dogs require daily exercise and mental stimulation, which means they need to be walked, played with, and engaged in various activities. Taking a dog for a walk or engaging in playtime not only benefits the dog but also gets us moving and active. 

Physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. Engaging in exercise with a dog not only provides the opportunity for increased physical activity but also adds an element of joy and fun to the experience, further enhancing our mood.

Can My Dog Feel When I Am Sad?

Yes, dogs can feel when you are sad. In fact, dogs feel a lot of what you feel through the following, and they know when you are sad or crying through the following:

Emotional Contagion: Understanding Dogs’ Emotional Sensitivity

Emotional contagion refers to the phenomenon where individuals can “catch” or be influenced by the emotions of those around them. Research has shown that dogs are highly susceptible to emotional contagion, especially from their human companions. They possess an extraordinary ability to pick up on subtle changes in our facial expressions, body language, and vocal cues, allowing them to gauge our emotional state accurately.

Dogs Feel Distress When We Do

Studies have demonstrated that dogs not only recognize human emotional distress but also experience distress themselves when they witness their owners crying or exhibiting signs of sadness. Dogs are highly attuned to our emotions, and their bond with us is such that they perceive our well-being as directly linked to their own. When they see us in distress, they instinctively share our emotional burden.

Hormones

When humans experience different emotions, our bodies release various chemicals, such as hormones and pheromones, that dogs can detect. In fact, dogs know when we are depressed

For example, when a person feels afraid or anxious, they release adrenaline or cortisol, which can have a distinct scent. Dogs are highly sensitive to these chemical signals and can associate them with specific emotions.

Sweat & Other Smells

Humans sweat when they experience intense emotions, and the sweat produced during different emotional states can have different chemical compositions. Dogs can detect these subtle differences in sweat odor, allowing them to sense changes in human emotional states.

Dogs have an incredibly powerful sense of smell, and they play a significant role in their ability to detect human emotions. As a result, they can pick up on changes in odor that we may not be able to detect, providing them with valuable information about our emotional state. 

Body Language

Dogs are highly attuned to human body language and can read several cues to understand our intentions and emotions. Here are some ways dogs interpret human body language:

  • Facial Expressions: Dogs pay close attention to human facial expressions, particularly the eyes, and mouth. They can distinguish between a smiling face, friendliness, and a frowning or tense face, suggesting potential danger or negative emotions.
  • Posture and Body Stance: Dogs can interpret human body posture and stance as signals of dominance, submission, confidence, or fear. For example, a relaxed and open posture may indicate a calm and friendly demeanor. In contrast, a hunched or tense posture may signify unease or aggression.
  • Gestures and Movements: Dogs can pick up on specific gestures and movements, such as pointing, nodding, or waving, and understand what humans are indicating or asking for. They can learn to associate certain gestures with actions or commands, which is the basis for many training techniques.
  • Energy and Tension: Dogs are highly sensitive to human energy levels and can sense tension or anxiety. They can pick up on subtle changes in our body language, such as increased muscle tension or rapid movements, which may indicate unease or stress.
  • Vocal Cues: While not directly related to body language, dogs also pay attention to human vocal cues, including tone of voice and volume. They can discern between a calm and soothing tone and an agitated or fearful tone, which can influence their response and behavior.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, dogs have an extraordinary ability to comfort us when we are sad. Their empathetic nature and keen senses allow them to pick up on our emotions and respond in comforting ways. 

From snuggling and playing to providing protection and being great listeners, dogs offer a range of comforting behaviors to help us feel better.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.