Recently I became audibly and visibly upset about something going on in my personal life in front of my two dogs Hank and Charlie. As I sat on the floor crying, Hank came and sat right next to me and began to lick my face, while Charlie laid his head in my lap, looking at me as though he was upset as well. At first I didn’t think too much of it as I patted them each on the head, but then it dawned on me….. I was being comforted by my dogs. At that moment they knew something was wrong with me and they needed to make sure I knew, that they cared.
Many studies have been done regarding the emotions of our dogs, specifically their reaction to sadness and tears. In recent studies published in the Journal of Animal Cognition, researchers found dogs were more likely to approach a person who was crying, than someone who was singing or talking. The dogs became more submissive to the crying person. In the case of my dogs, once I stopped crying and regained control of my emotions, they were back to wrestling and chasing squirrels in the back yard.
It is unclear as to whether dogs are feeling empathetic to human emotions or if they are simply able to determine our moods by our body language, but one thing is for sure, they know something is different. In recent studies, it was determined that although not identical in complexity, dogs share the hormones and undergo the same chemical changes that humans do during emotional states. “When I’m sick he won’t leave my side if I’m in bed,” said dog owner and lover Tam Rockett, “Usually, he’ll get up and inspect the smallest noise to make sure everything is fine, but when I’m sick, he doesn’t care about any of that.”
For most of us, we don’t care about what study is being done or what researchers are learning about our dogs. It’s not important for us to know if they can feel anger over fear or happiness over sadness. All we care about is the sheer joy we get from having our dogs comfort us when we are down.