Dog with sad owner.

Have you ever had the notion that your dog could tell when you’re sick or sad? It turns out, your hunch is correct. Dogs pay attention to a variety of signals to notice how their favorite humans are feeling. They can recognize changes in facial expressions and behaviors and can also pick up on chemical changes using their advanced sense of smell.

Do Dogs Have Emotions?

Dogs have the mind of a toddler in terms of emotional intelligence, vocabulary, and cognitive development. Researchers think that canines can experience basic emotions, including joy, fear, love, sadness, and anger. Along the same lines, it is thought that dogs can sense these same emotions in their favorite humans. It’s unclear whether dogs experience true empathy or instead respond to emotions of others without actually feeling them, also known as emotional mirroring.

How DOES My Dog Know What I’m Feeling?

While dogs have limited capacity to understand human emotions, they are experts on picking up on behavioral cues and have highly advanced senses of smell. These two traits are key ways that pups perceive moods.

1. Using sense of smell

Dogs have highly complex olfactory systems–one-third of their brain is dedicated to scent cells. They possess two senses of smell, one for food odors and one for pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals produced and released by animals. Human emotions trigger chemical changes that dogs can detect. Over time, they learn to relate certain scents to specific emotions.

People also smell different when they get sick from a virus or bacteria. These changes are most often noticed by our pets in breath and sweat although dogs can be taught to recognize illness in urine and blood. Some super-pups are trained over time to detect serious conditions like cancer, diabetes, seizures, or malaria.

2. Noticing behavior changes

Most animals are keen observers of their environment. This is especially true for dogs and their owners. Human facial expressions change according to how we’re feeling. When someone is afraid, for example, their eyes open wide and they take shallow breaths. Dogs also pay attention to the way words are said. This is why dogs wag their tails when you use a sweet tone of voice, no matter what words you actually say.

If the tables turn and you’re the one picking up on behavioral changes or have concerns about your dog, the team at Androscoggin Animal Hospital is here to help. From wellness care to dentistry to dermatology, our staff are here to care for your animals’ health at all stages of life.