It’s said that dogs can learn and understand over a hundred words, but you don’t have to utter even one for them to know you’re upset. Before the first tear falls, your dog is steps ahead, giving you extra nuzzles and showing love from your lap.
How do they seem to always know? Do dogs have a sixth sense? Probably not, but when your other five are so well developed who needs extra.
In fact, it’s through their keen senses of sight, smell, and sound they’re able to put together mental composites that accurately predict their master’s ever-changing emotional state.
How Dogs Evolved to Understand Moods
Reading subtle emotional cues has been historically advantageous for Fluffy. This inherent ability is strengthened by the pack mentality of a dog’s highly social nature. Over the centuries, the better the species became at detecting human emotions, the more they could reap the rewards of domestication in the form of food, affection, etc.
Sensing Emotions with the Senses
As far as your pup is concerned, you are the pack leader, the anchor point of their entire universe. Should it really come as any surprise, they’d so finely attune themselves to you? After all, your internal experience drastically impacts their outer experience. It’s not exactly empathy, but something close.
Essentially, they use primary senses like sight, sound, and smell to anticipate whether you’re in a generous belly petting place to get their favorite treat or frustrated fury. Over time, their careful observations get hammered into habits and even the subtlest shift is sensed.
Mapping Moods with Sight
Even with our developed language centers, humans say far more through their nonverbal communications than they do with their words, and your dog doesn’t miss a moment of it. Whether you pick up the pace on a walk, suddenly straighten your spine, or contort your face into a disapproving scowl, your pup is likely to respond in kind.
They’ll even watch to see where your gaze goes and intuit your eye contact. With nothing but time to wait and watch their master, they register and respond to your emotions in real time.
Eavesdropping on Your Emotions
A dog’s sense of hearing is second to none. Not only can they register slight sounds, they also pick up frequencies that are far outside the range of what’s hearable for humans.
They can detect approaching footsteps or the slightest squeal of your breaks even from great distances. Take your dog for a walk around the block and listen as the neighborhood dogs begin barking just from the jingle of Rover’s collar. Even if they can’t see you, their supersonic hearing lets them know there’s another canine coming.
Can Dogs Really Smell Fear?
Humans have roughly six million scent receptors. Dogs? 300 million. This makes their olfactory system up to 100,00 times greater and more accurate than a human’s.
With this information in mind, think about what happens when you get scared. In addition to physically contracting, your body, in preparation for fight or flight, will likely perspire a little more and start pumping your system full of adrenalin. These two chemical changes alone are palpable for a pup’s supersonic sense of smell.
They’re also said to be able to detect metabolic changes in the body that can lead to seizures or a heart attack!
These scents cue their behavior and, in some cases, mirror the emotion. For example, one study exposed dogs to sweat tinged with different emotions. Upon smelling fear-related sweat, dogs displayed physiological signs of stress like increased heart rates. Happy and neutral sweat had an opposite. if not calming, effect.
So, while dogs may not be outright mind readers, they’re definitely mood readers! Whether your mood is written all over your face or streaming out of your pores, your pup is undoubtedly listening in on your emotions.
Author Bio: Meet Mitch Felderhoff
Mitch joined his family business in May of 2007 after graduating from the University of North Texas. After several years working in sales, Mitch took on the responsibility of marketing, new product development, and was named Vice President in 2009. With the company now firmly in the 4th generation of Felderhoff’s, Mitch’s commitment to excellence is stronger than ever. When Mitch isn’t working on extruding dry pet foods, he is a husband and loving father of three boys.