Can Dogs Sense Depression and Anxiety?

Brunette woman presses her forehead against a dog’s foreheadIf you’ve ever owned a dog, you’ve probably noticed their uncanny ability to comfort you when you’re feeling down or even ill. Many dogs will approach their owners and give them kisses or curl up next to them.

These behaviors certainly suggest that our dogs know what we are feeling. However, has any of this actually been scientifically proven? Are dogs genuinely able to sense our emotions, or have we inadvertently trained them to approach us when we’re distressed by offering love and praise when they do?

Today, we will explore research about dogs and their potential to empathize. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not dogs can sense emotions like anxiety or depression, then keep reading.

Dogs Want to Comfort You

A study published in the journal Learning & Behavior in 2018 suggests that many dogs want to comfort their humans. Unfortunately, the dogs that don’t outwardly show concern are often so affected by their owners’ distress that they become unable to offer help.

The study placed owners behind a glass door held closed by magnets that could be opened easily by the dogs. Owners participated in a control trial where they simply hummed and a test trial where they pretended to cry.

Because most dogs naturally want to be with their owners, they were not more likely to go through the door if their owners were crying. However, they did go through the door significantly faster when their owners cried than when they hummed, suggesting that the dogs recognized distress and wanted to help.

Some of the dogs that didn’t go through the door displayed stressed behaviors as if their owners’ distress was contagious to them. Researchers believed that the stress the dogs felt paralyzed them and rendered them unable to comfort their owners.

The researchers involved with the study feel that it provides evidence that dogs can feel empathy and are susceptible to emotional contagion and that this sometimes drives them to help their owners. However, the dogs must be able to suppress the stressful emotions that blossom in them due to their owners’ distress; otherwise, they are too overwhelmed to help.



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