Study Finds Dogs Can Really Tell When You’re Upset

Have you ever paid attention to your dog during a time when you experiencing some form of emotional disruption like being sad or angry? Did you get the idea that even if you weren’t vocally voicing how you feel that the dog knew? As it turns out, there is a growing wealth of empirical data that suggests that dogs are highly tuned into their caregivers and they are able to discern when you are upset. In most instances, they will attempt to do something to make you feel better or calm you down.

What is interesting is the fact that this capability to know when their caregiver is having a bad moment is not limited to a certain breed or age group. This seems to be something that is common among the K-9 species. The research found that canines that are separated from their caregivers in a closed space ran to their owners much quicker when the owner made a crying or distressed sound. Conversely, when the owner hummed a tune to a cheerful song, the dogs were less anxious and in a hurry to get to them.

So, we now know that dogs not only recognize when we are upset, but they actually attempt to aid us in our time of need. This fact lends credence to the old adage that dogs are man’s best friend. We see how this is playing out with dogs that are being trained as service dogs. What is interesting about this particular process is these dogs are so intuned with their caregiver that they can detect when their owner is going to have a seizure even before the owner is aware that something is wrong. When this happens the dog will alert the owner that they are about to experience an episode, which can prevent them from being injured or worse.

While there is definitely more work to be done in the area of research, it is clear that the advantages of having a dog as a pet are multitudinous. What is not clear at this point is whether this same phenomenon exists between dogs and strangers. Is it the bond between the dog and owner that heightens their senses and makes them more aware, or is it something innate with every animal.

In a world that is filled with so many frustrations and disappointments, it is good to know that having a dog as a pet can provide much-needed comfort. This is definitely good news for people who live alone. Just living alone can generate feelings of sorrow and discontent, especially at certain times of the year. Having a dog around can give a person more responsibility and provide companionship at the same time.

What is interesting about this study and other notable observations is the fact that dogs are able to detect when we are upset in multiple ways. It appears that they can sense in our voice, our movements, and even our posture. What appears obvious at this point is that dogs are able to develop a baseline of what normal behavior is for their owners, and when that baseline is compromised, they jump into action to render aid.

The senior study author, Julia Meyers-Manor, an assistant professor of psychology for Ripon College, that the behavior of the dogs was reflective of their ability to feel empathy. Some limitations that the professor admits to in her study is the variability in heart rate readings, the actual bond between the dog and owner, and the reactions to distressed sounds of strangers as well as the acting skills of the human subjects involved. Not everyone is great at acting distressed or sad. While we wait for the follow up to this study, we definitely have some positives to think about and discuss. As with all studies, there are some who are not so easily convinced by the findings, so this premise presented here still rests as a theory at this point. But don’t be surprised if this theory does not transform into a theorem over the next couple of years.

Regardless of what the ultimate outcome, we know that dogs can be very loving and caring, and if it is within our power to adopt a dog, we should definitely take the opportunity. After all, we didn’t need a scientific study to tell us that dogs are awesome.


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