Can dogs really sense our emotions?

Whether it’s “spidey sense” or “smelling your fear”, humans have long suspected that animals can sense how a person is feeling. Many dog owners report the same about their pooches. They seemingly know when we’re stressed, angry, or unwell – we’ve even heard stories of dog knowing something is wrong before their humans even realise it themselves!

But, are we romanticising the connection we have with our canine pals, or is there research backing this up? Researchers have found that, yes, our four legged besties can understand how we are feeling.

Here are some ways your greyhound might gather information about how you’re feeling:

Body language

A lot of human communication is non-verbal, in fact, a study found that up to 93% of our communication is through body language. The way our dogs communicate is entirely non-verbal, and they use things such as posture, tail height and muscle tension to communicate how they’re feeling. Experimentally, dogs have shown to be able to follow a person’s gaze or head position to find hidden food.

Reading our facial expressions

Dogs have shown to respond positively to images of people with happy expressions and negatively when viewing fearful or angry expressions. Dogs seem to have a harder time resuming regular activities and show an elevated heart rate when their human is having a bad day.

Looking at our behaviour as a whole

Scientists have found strong evidence that dogs are capable of ‘social referencing’. Social referencing is how human infants are able to use an adult’s behaviour as a guide to how they should respond to certain situations. Dog exposed to a neutral object (like a plain box) will be more likely to approach it if they’ve seen someone interacting with it confidently versus someone acting as if they were angry or scared.

Following their nose

The phrase ‘smelling your fear’ might be more than just a myth. A dog’s nose is 10,000 to 1,000,000 times more sensitive than a human’s.

Dogs have used this unique gift to help solve crimes, detect disease, monitor the health of their owners and find missing people. Your dog’s nose really is a powerhouse!

Science has also proven that they can also smell the chemical difference in our sweat when we are in a positive or negative emotional state. Dogs that were exposed to the sweat of a fearful person showed significant signs of distress, sought more comfort from their owners and were more wary of strangers compared to dogs exposed to neutral sweat scents.

So, there are many ways for our dogs to pick up on what we might be feeling. It’s clear that over the last 15, 000 years, dogs have learned quite a bit about the human species, clearly earning their best friend status. We all owe it to our besties to use this information to make sure we also use our best efforts to understand how our dogs are feeling- it’s only fair after all!