On days when I’m slightly unsure if my dog will be friendly with another dog on our walks, he mirrors my feelings. He too seems unsure and often barks at the other dog. Days when I feel as if my dog didn’t really want to come to the day care; he wanted to relax at home. Lo and behold he doesn’t readily walk into the day care like other days when he can’t wait to get there. Whenever my partner travels I tend to feel anxious no matter how much I try to hide. And every time – every single time – my dog falls ill while my partner is away. I always wondered why! After doing some research and talking with credible voices I realised that the issue might lie with me, because dogs can sense human emotions.
So, every time I’m anxious, my dog mirrors my emotions. Every time I’m confident and happy, he mirrors that too. In fact, dogs also tend to behave differently around humans who like versus those who don’t.
What research says
Some authoritative voices from the pet care industry, such as Dr. Karen Becker, agree that dogs can sense human emotions. Having powerful olfactory senses dogs can understand a human’s emotional state – be that fear, anxiousness, happiness and so on.
A study titled ‘Interspecies transmission of emotional information via chemosignals: from humans to dogs’ states that human body odours (or chemosignals) are detectable by pet dogs. Some dogs are especially good at detecting, such as Labrador and Golden Retrievers.
Read more informative ‘Insight Hound’ article here.
The dog ‘nose’, study affirms
The study[i] collected odour samples and set up an experiment that involved co-presence of the dogs’ owners, strangers and the odour dispensers in a space where dogs could move freely. There were three odour conditions – fear, happiness and control – to which the dogs were assigned randomly. The behaviours of the dogs towards owners, strangers and sweat dispensers were evaluated along with their stress and heart rate indicators.
The results of the study indicated with high accuracy that the dogs manifested the predicted behaviours in the three conditions. There were fewer and shorter owner directed behaviours and stranger directed behaviours when they were in the “happy odour condition” compared to the fear odour and control conditions. In the fear odour condition, they displayed more stressful behaviours. The heart rate data in the control and happy conditions were significantly lower than in the fear condition.
Its possible to control how we feel
Now here’s the thing since our best friends, our canine companions, can easily pick on our emotions we can perhaps try to consciously practice some steps to keep our anxious emotions in check. By the way, my partner is travelling now, and my dog has not fallen ill this time because I’m not anxious. So, yes, the below steps have helped me.
- Build a routine and follow it, no matter what. Yes, life gets in the way of things which is understandable. But as much as possible stick to a routine because dogs are creatures of habit. By doing this you’ll help them to overcome feelings of something amiss.
- Don’t try to comfort your dog if he is displaying signs such as sadness. Instead, pick up the leash and encourage him to step out. It almost always helps in distracting them. But check the weather before stepping out because you don’t want the dog to suffer in extreme heat.
- However, if you notice anything terribly off, consult a vet. Don’t delay it because it’s always good to err on the side of caution.
Note: This article is meant for information and awareness only and should not be treated as medical opinion.