You're hopping mad, yelling at the top of your lungs, slamming doors, pounding walls — you just stubbed your toe, and it hurts like the dickens.
Your dog, on the other hand, was chilling by the pool, waiting for you to come back. Now, you can't find him because he's hunkered down behind a bush, afraid to make eye contact, for fear he'll intensify your rage.
As your dog's companion, caregiver, and hero, you always need to keep in mind how your mood and behavior affect your dog, and how your reaction, or overreaction, to one of life's curveballs might contribute to his bad behavior.
Conversely, if you're feeling sad, your dog is most likely drawn to you, trying his best to make you feel better and turn your frown upside down. And there's nothing quite like a dog's unconditional love to brighten up your day — and if you're happy; he's happy — laugh out loud and watch that tail start wagging!
Can dogs sense our emotions?
Canines have been our loyal companions for eons. For years, we thought that dogs diverged from wolves and were domesticated about 16,000 years ago, after the last ice age. But new fossil evidence from a small bone found in a remote region of Siberia suggests the unique relationship between humans and dogs has thrived for perhaps as long as 40,000 years!
It was inevitable, given dogs' intelligence, that they would adapt to figuring out their humans' emotions. After all, it's advantageous for dogs to be able to evaluate the social intentions and motivations of not only other dogs, but also their human companions; gleaning crucial information about how to behave in different situations. And as you might expect, dogs use a combination of visual (facial expressions and body postures) and auditory clues (human voices) to facilitate information processing, which affects how they respond to people and things in their world.
But what if we're not acting out? What about those times we put on a brave face for the world when we're fearful — or when we keep a stiff upper lip even though our world is falling apart?
During these dark times, it sometimes feels like your dog senses your emotions, even those you thought you were hiding. Well, it's not magic, and dogs aren't psychic; so how exactly do dogs know how we're feeling? According to a study published in Animal Cognition, dogs can smell emotional states.
From the research findings, Stanley Coren, Ph.D., DSc, FRSC, extrapolates, "dogs do seem to be able to smell our emotional state, and they then seem to trust our responses to the situation by adopting those emotional states as their own." Consequently, it's helpful to understand how your mood and emotions affect your dog and try to limit negative cues. Living among people with consistently negative emotions can create negative behaviors in dogs.
On the other hand, cultivating an environment in your home that fosters mostly positive feelings in your human family will help contribute to more well-adjusted, content dogs with fewer behavioral issues. It's not always easy, but doing your best to sustain a positive, happy household is beneficial to everyone — you, your kids, your dogs, and other pets, too!
How does your anger affect your dog?
Life happens, and every household experiences a sprinkling of negative emotions now and then. How about those days when you could start an argument in an empty house? Your dog has nothing to do with you being upset, but he feels the intense vibes and might avoid you. He may not trust you when you're angry. Anger has a ripple effect, and typically affects other people and your dog, too.
During an angry episode, you'll notice your dog is uncomfortable, edgy, and stressed. If exposed too frequently to the unpleasant dynamics of anger, your dog can become nervous, aggressive, hyperactive, or frightened.
How does a dog react to your nervousness?
He's pacing, he's anxious, and you wonder why he's acting this way lately. Then you remember how nervous you've been waiting for a mortgage approval on your dream house. Your nervousness fills the air, and everyone in the family is on pins and needles. Your, being sensitive to your cues, dog has picked up on the signals and is now also acting out.
An anxious dog needs calming, and in extreme cases, veterinary intervention. If it's only a temporary issue that has you in nerves, your dog's anxiety will blow over, and he will likely settle down. But if you are generally a nervous person every day, there's a chance your dog could develop full-blown anxiety. Consult with your vet and consider CBD oil in dog treats, capsules, and tincture form.
How does your dog react to your sadness?
As we've established, dogs respond to emotional distress. When you experience sorrow, your dog may come to you and lay her head in your lap, or bring you her favorite toy. She may become subdued and submissive, and may even stop eating.
According to studies, our dogs can show sympathy not only for us, but also for strangers. Stanley Coren writes in his column Canine Corner at Psychology Today, "In the same manner that young humans show empathy and understanding of the emotions of others, so do dogs. Furthermore, we appear to have bred our dogs so that they not only show empathy but also show sympathy, which is a desire to comfort others who might be in emotional distress."
Your dog is intuitive, and is sensitive to his human's moods and reactions. Remember, your behavior has a significant impact on his peace of mind and quality of life.
- Foobler: How Your Mood and Mind-set affect your Dog’s Behaviour
- Psychology Today: Dogs Smell Your Emotional State and It Affects Their Mood
- National Geographic: Your Dog Knows How You Feel—Here’s How
- The Royal Society Publishing: Dogs recognize dog and human emotions
- Psychology Today: Canine Empathy: Your Dog Really Does Care If You Are Unhappy
- Live Science: Canine Comfort: Do Dogs Know When You're Sad?