The world is going through a very uncertain time currently, and a lot of us are feeling stressed, anxious and worried. We are all spending more time at home, around our pets. Something that has been a topic of discussion for many years is whether animals can sense our emotions and feelings. In this article, we are going to explore whether and how our pets, dogs in particular, may be able to sense human emotions.
Unlike human empaths or psychics who pick up on auras and vibrations, dogs actually use several techniques to be able to pick up on how we are feeling.
Reading our body language
Both humans and dogs communicate through vocalisation, but this alone sometimes doesn’t tell us the whole picture. Body language plays a very important role in communication in both humans and dogs. They are experts in reading each other’s body language, and even have their own signals to check whether they are happy to play with other dogs, for example.
Dogs read our body language by assessing our posture and mannerisms. Social cognition experiments have shown that even a 9-week old puppy is better at reading body language than wolves, chimpanzees and three-year-old children.
Studying facial expressions
Emotional contagion is a social trait of humans and primates. It is when we match the emotions and expressions of others to show empathy. Examples of this are when we yawn when others around us do, return a smile and also feel emotion when we see others crying.
Dogs have also been proven to show this kind of empathy and mimicry with each other. Elisabetta Palagi and her team carried out a study on dogs interacting at local parks. They found that dogs match each other’s body postures and mimic facial expressions, especially with dogs they’re already familiar with.
From this study, it is believed that emotional contagion also exists between dogs and humans. If you glance at your dog, the likelihood is that they will also do the same, and start eye contact with you. It’s also common for them to yawn just after you have yawned, especially if you have a strong bond. There is also strong evidence that dogs can understand the difference between our positive and negative facial expressions.
Sensing emotion in our voice
Dogs have exceptional hearing and can detect high frequencies up to four times further away than humans. Their amazing hearing can also detect very subtle changes in our voice, that we might not even be aware of.
A 2014 study found that dogs can detect variations in tone and mood in the voices of other dogs and even humans. They are able to understand the different sounds in our voices, depending on our current emotion. This may be why dogs tend to want to comfort you when you are showing signs of upset.
Smelling chemical changes
As well as having exceptional hearing, dogs also have an amazing sense of smell. They have around 300 million olfactory receptors, which, compared to our 6 million, means their sense of smell is up to 100,000 times more sensitive than humans.
Dogs have been known to be able to smell changes in our body and be able to detect diseases such as cancer, heart disease and other serious medical problems. However, research has also shown that in the presence of a ‘fearful odour’, dog’s heart rates went up and they sought comfort from their owners.
To conclude, there have been many studies conducted around the world to show that dogs can indeed sense our emotions and feelings. During this time of uncertainty, and spending much more time at home with your dog, please consider what they may be picking up from you. Try to keep a stress and worry-free environment at home, both for you and your dog.