When you are feeling down, a dog can often act as a better confidant than another human.
They also listen better, respond appropriately to your emotions, and seem to genuinely care about your feelings. What gives?
It should come as no surprise that dogs are capable of intense feelings. They are highly social, pack animals with strong emotional connections to other dogs. They have their own social structures and bonding rituals, many of which mirror human social structures.
The same emotional connections that dogs experience in packs can transfer easily to any group setting, including cross-species situations. To your dog, you are family. It is as simple as that.
Of course, there are many other fascinating things that your dog understands about you that you may not be aware of. Sometimes their abilities can be downright spooky, but there are strong scientific explanations for your dog’s behaviors. Understanding how your dog perceives you can help you relate better to your pet.
Here is a look at 15 things your dog can sense about you along with some insight into how dogs do these things and what it all means.
1. Dogs Know When You Are Sad
When you feel sad, your dog will immediately pick up on this and adjust his behavior accordingly. He may become more subdued than usual, lose interest in his toys and even refuse his food.
Usually, your dog will quietly observe you from a corner of the room. After a while, he may come over and lie down at your feet or gently rest his head in your lap. Many dogs will even try to lick away tears as they fall. A dog’s master is the center of his entire world, so sensing your feelings of sadness will have an effect on him too.
In a study published in the journal “Animal Cognition,” researchers found that a dog was more likely to approach someone who was crying than someone who was humming or talking. Furthermore, they found that dogs respond to weeping with submissive behavior.
In other words, dogs seem to be trying to placate a person who is upset. What is more, dogs will approach anyone who is upset the same way, regardless of whether that person is their owner or not.
The scientists insist that this study does not prove that dogs experience empathy, but it certainly goes a long way to supporting the claim. It also clearly indicates that dogs can identify sadness as an emotion that is different from other feelings.
2. Dogs Can Sense Your Intentions
Even before you turn on the shower or touch his towel, your dog knows you intend to give him a bath and will immediately run for cover. The same goes for haircuts, nail trims and administering medicine.
On the other side, your dog will also understand if your intentions are pure and you are performing the task for his own good.
Most dogs will submit to unpleasant experiences, such as nail trims, if their owner is close by to offer some reassuring words and gentle encouragement.
At least one study has shown that dogs read intentions by reading behavior. A 2011 study published in “Learning & Behavior” found that domestic dogs are roughly as intelligent as a 2-year-old human. That means that they are capable of understanding the meaning of roughly 165 words and that they can make sense of body language.
It turns out that dogs use eye contact and gaze to figure out what people are thinking. Just as a mentalist will follow your gaze to determine what is on your mind that you don’t want him to know, so too will dogs follow your gaze to get a read on what you are thinking.
So, when you look at the bathtub while calling your dog, he knows you are thinking of cleaning off the dead skunk he worked so hard to grind into his fur.
3. Dogs can Sense Any Diseases You May Have
Various studies have confirmed that dogs have the ability to detect certain diseases such as cancer through their keen sense of smell.
Some dogs can even be trained to warn epilepsy sufferers when they are about to have a seizure.
There are many different training centers opening in various parts of the world that are dedicated to training dogs to detect the subtle chemical changes in the human body that signal disease.
A dog’s ability to sense disease comes down to an ability to detect chemicals known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs. VOCs are what allows us to sense odor and though some are toxic, the term generally applies to any chemical that can get into your nose because it is a gas. While humans can detect certain potent VOCs, our limited sense of smell is no match for what dogs can do.
Depending on the breed, a dog’s sense of smell can be anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times stronger than a human’s. That means that a dog can pick up a scent that is up to 100,000 times weaker than any scent a human can detect.
If you translate that into terms we understand, like vision, it means that while a human can see roughly 1/3 of a mile, a dog could see just as well at a distance of 3,000 miles if his eyesight were as good, relative to our own, as his nose is! Put another way, a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water.
4. Dogs Understand When You Feel Scared
If you have a Rottweiler or Doberman, then your burly protector will most likely spring into action and come to your rescue.
Smaller dogs, or those with nervous temperaments, will follow your lead and start to feel scared themselves.
Your dog will always look to you for guidance on how to react in certain situations, so if you want your dog to be brave you will have to lead by example.
Fear is an emotion shared by a large number of animals, dogs included. While it is true that dogs can “smell” fear, it is also true that they intuitively understand the body language associated with it.
Dogs, like humans, have a customary reaction to fear. Their hair stands up, their pupils dilate, their lips curl, and their stance changes. When they associate their fear posturing with human fear posturing, they gain an understanding of what humans look like when they are afraid. Combine this with their awesome sense of smell and it’s no wonder that dogs can so easily detect fear.
5. Dogs Know When You Are Being Unfair
A study performed in Austria tested what would happen if one dog was rewarded for performing a trick while another was not given anything for completing the same task.
The dogs that did not receive a reward became agitated at the sight of their peers receiving treats. They responded by scratching and licking themselves with impatience. In other words, they recognized the unfairness of the situation.
Notably, the dogs that took part in the study were unable to differentiate between the sizes of the rewards. If one dog received a sausage while another received bread, both dogs were more than happy with their prize. Remember, dogs are roughly as intelligent as a 2-year-old child.
Many animals have a sense of justice. Chimps, for instance, have a very strong sense of right and wrong and even take pleasure in punishing those who break the rules. Dogs have their own sense of fairness and it results from their social structure.
One reason that dogs understand fairness arises out of their roots as wolves. Researchers have found that, because wolves must coordinate as a pack to hunt, they depend upon rules of fairness to survive.
A wolf that doesn’t pull his weight won’t be allowed to partake in the rewards of a hunt. By the same token, a wolf that works hard to bring down an elk isn’t going to respond well to being denied a piece of the prize.
Treat your dog the way you would want to be treated. Human and canine justice both come down to that simple golden rule.
6. Dogs Understand If You Suddenly Have Other Priorities
A new baby, boyfriend, hobby or even a new pet can lead to feelings of jealousy and resentment from your pampered pooch.
Some dogs have even been known to physically insert themselves between two lovers in order to shift the attention back onto them.
Having pointed out that dogs are able to recognize and cope with shifts in your priorities, remember that they don’t want to be neglected. The most important thing in the life of your pet is you.
Your dog relies on you to feed and care for his most basic needs. To let your dog know that you still care, do your best to keep his routine intact. A disruption in a dog’s routine will not only trigger feelings of jealousy, but will also play on your pet’s sense of justice.
If your dog displays feelings of jealousy, try to encourage him to interact with the new member of the family. Set aside at least ten minutes a day for some ‘alone time’ between you and your dog. Do right by your dog by responding to his emotional needs the way you would with a person.
7. Dogs Sense When You Are Angry
If you come home and find your dog knee-deep in the garbage can, placing your hands on your hips and issuing a disapproving stare is often enough to convey your anger.
When on the receiving end of discipline, a dog will often crouch down, tremble, whine and occasionally lose bladder control.
A recent study found that dogs will display this behavior when reprimanded even if they haven’t actually done anything wrong. It is clear that dogs can sense anger, but it is also clear that they can’t always understand its source.
Dogs often don’t know if you are angry at them or as the result of something else. This can be a disastrous situation because a dog may change his behavior in response to your anger, even if he has done nothing wrong. If this happens often enough, your dog may become frustrated with the lack of consistency in the rules and start to act out. Once again, this harkens back to a dog’s sense of justice.
Your pet will try to please you, but if he feels you are treating him unfairly and that he can do no right, he will start to act out.
8. Dogs Know If You Are A Generous Person
An experiment organized by the University of Milan allowed dogs to observe humans in social situations.
The dogs watched one set of actors sharing their food with a homeless man and another group telling the man to leave in an aggressive manner. Afterward, the two sets of actors attempted to call the dogs at the same time.
Almost all of the dogs would respond to the generous actors when called and avoided the aggressive group.
Generosity is about justice as much as it is about kindness. It is also about tone of voice, anger, and all of the things previously discussed. The bottom line is that your dog knows when you are being generous and when you are being stingy.
If you are stingy too often, your dog may begin to take things behind your back, act out, or otherwise let you know he is disappointed. Dogs expect reciprocity, they expect kindness, and they expect fairness. Dogs have a strong moral compass, which is what makes them such outstanding companions. They expect you to live a moral life and will react accordingly.
9. Dogs Immediately Know When Your Back is Turned
Many dogs would not dream of stealing food in front of their owner, but doing it behind their back is another situation entirely.
Researchers tested the willpower of several dogs by setting treats down in front of them and then forbidding the dogs to approach the food. As soon as the researchers left the room, every one of the dogs inhaled the food in an instant.
With a sense of justice comes a sense of understanding what one can get away with. How much can you cheat on your taxes? Should you tell a white lie to avoid that boring party? Satisfaction sometimes dictates that we do things that are less than honest so that we can gain some pleasure.
With dogs, food is a major source of pleasure. They don’t have access to food the way humans do, able to eat any time they want, so don’t be surprised when your dog risks mild punishment for stealing a little food when your back is turned.
10. Dogs Understand If You Are A Pushover
Larger breeds sometimes don’t understand their own strength and can be dangerous if they suddenly decide to surprise a child or an old person with a hug.
However, just because a dog is well-behaved for its master or trainer does not mean it will act the same way for everyone else.
Dogs like to test the boundaries on a regular basis. If they find someone who does not punish them for pulling on the leash, digging up the garden, or eating the garbage, they will take advantage their new-found freedom.
Dogs rely heavily on social hierarchies to determine what they are and are not allowed to do in a setting. If you want your dog to behave, then he or she needs to see you as the alpha in the relationship.
To maintain alpha status, you need to do what an alpha dog would do. That means making your dog heel on walks, going through doorways first, always eating first, never feeding the dog from the table, and sticking to your punishments when the dog has misbehaved. If you maintain alpha status, your dog will never think you are a pushover.
11. Dogs Can Sense If A Woman Is Pregnant
Many owners report that their dogs suddenly become much more protective, attentive, and loving.
They also report that the dogs begin escorting them everywhere they go. Your dog may also sniff or nuzzle your belly and rest his head on it.
Dogs pick up on hormonal changes, such as when a woman is menstruating, so the ability to sniff out a pregnancy is not so far-fetched.
It should come as no surprise that your dog may feel put out by the new bundle of joy in your home. To ensure that dog and baby are happy together, you need to start preparing your canine friend for the new baby as soon as you know you are pregnant.
Most experts recommend that you give the pet a special place that belongs only to him, that you take time each day to spend only with your dog, and that you don’t change routine if it you can avoid it. If you must change your dog’s routine, then start early and do it gradually.
You want the change to be complete before the baby is born so that your dog doesn’t associate the ruination of his daily routine with the baby.
12. Dogs Know When You Are Taking Them To The Vet
As soon as you load him into the car, your dog will already know what is going on. He may stare worriedly out of the window, pace back and forth, or eye you suspiciously.
Once you get to the vets, then most dogs develop a set of anti-lock brakes that makes them impossible to move.
Even if they are visiting a new vet for the first time, as soon as the door opens, they already understand that what is in store isn’t pleasant.
A dog knows that he is going to the vet thanks to his sense of smell and his ability to read body language. You probably can’t make a trip to the vet fun for your dog, but you can make it less anxiety-provoking.
Most experts recommend that you acclimate your dog to the vet by taking him there on visits (no shots or prodding during these times). You should also “play doctor” with your dog. That means touching him on the pads of his feet, looking in his mouth, and otherwise doing things that a vet would do.
You want to normalize these behaviors for your dog so that they aren’t alarming when the vet does them.
13. Dogs Understand When You Are Grieving
There have been many stories of pets grieving for their dead owners, and many have kept up vigils next to their owner’s grave or previous home.
Losing a loved one brings a deep sadness that is very unlike other kinds that result from the breakup of a relationship or disappointment at work.
Your dog will understand when you are mourning a loved one and will most likely go through a grieving process of his own. He may become clingier or more attentive. Some dogs have been known to howl when experiencing bereavement.
To help your dog deal with grief, start by maintaining his normal routine. Believe it our not, too much affection can be a bad thing. Some dogs will see it as a sign of weakness and take it that they need to assume the alpha role.
You need to be calm and confident when a pet is grieving. Your job is as much about helping the dog move one (by playing, maintaining routine, etc.) as it is about placating your pet. Keep in mind that you should never introduce a new pet during a time of grief. Wait until your dog has recovered before getting a new puppy.
14. Dogs Know If You Are A Good Person
New science suggests that, contrary to what neurologists previously believed, the heart actually has a stronger electromagnetic field than the brain.
It also sends messages to the brain, through neurotransmitters, that influence thoughts and behavior.
When we describe someone as being “goodhearted,” it means that the person literally has a force field of good energy radiating from their heart. Dogs have been aware of this magnetic field for centuries and will naturally gravitate toward those who emit good energy.
Dogs will also know if you are a good person based on your body language and how you treat others. If your dealings with others are just and fair, your dog will pick up on that based on how people react to you. Just as the dogs above were drawn to the more generous individuals, dogs are also drawn to those they perceive as more fair or trustworthy.
It isn’t entirely clear how dogs make these moral judgments, but it is clear that you need to be consistently fair, both to your dog and to those around you, to let your pet know that you are a good person.
15. Dogs Understand When You Do Not Like Someone
Dopamine and serotonin are released into our system and cause a chemical reaction that leads to feelings of happiness, joy, infatuation and ecstasy.
The same thing happens when you look at a person you do not like. Except in this case the body releases a completely different set of hormones that are associated with hate, resentment and fear.
Your dog can detect these changes in you, and will most likely begin to dislike the person that caused your reaction.
Of course, body language plays a role in whether your pet thinks you like someone or not. Keep in mind that any dog, even a gentle dog, may try to protect you from people it perceives as a threat.
If you are avoiding a person, watching that person closely, or are otherwise sending out signals that you distrust someone, don’t be surprised if your dog barks, growls, or lunges at that person if he or she tries to approach you.
This is important to keep in mind because your behavior can help put your dog at ease and thus decrease the chances of a confrontation in which you, your dog, or another individual may be injured.