Do Dogs Get Sad?

| CJ Silvasi

Is your dog down in the dumps? Here's a guide on how to tell if your dog is sad, like changes in appetite, behavior, lethargy, and drooping tail.

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If you ask a dog lover, their answer would certainly be an enthusiastic yes! But is it just our nature to project human ideas of emotion onto our furry best friends? Experts and scientists don’t have a unified opinion on the topic. Many agree that dogs feel emotions because we can see it in their actions, but they don’t have the nuance to feel or understand these emotions like humans do.

This theory was proven by neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns, who performed MRIs on dogs and discovered that the areas of the brain that light up when humans experience emotions also light up for dogs. While we can’t speak to dogs directly to determine exactly what they’re feeling, Dr. Berns is confident that his experiment shows that the canine brain functions just as the human brain does:

“Scientists find it hard to accept the idea that animals have feelings. Most people who live with dogs understand this intuitively. The confusion comes because we have language and can label those feelings. We have words for things like love, fear, sadness, or guilt. Everything we started doing to elicit positive emotions showed that dogs had corresponding parts of their brains to humans.”

So, we know that dogs do get sad, as well as the other range of emotions, but how, as people, can we tell when our pup is down in the dumps?

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Sad?

Each dog is unique and will display their sadness in unique ways, but there are some common symptoms that you should be on the lookout for in your dog.

  • Changes in Appetite– Do you have a chow hound on your hands? If your pooch is suddenly refusing to eat or rejecting treats, you should monitor them to see what else is going on. Changes in diet and appetite are always a sign that something is amiss, so keep an eye out to see if you notice any other changes in behavior.

  • Lethargy– If your dog suddenly and drastically reduces their activity level and is sleeping more than usual, they may be sad. It may not be a big deal if it lasts only a day or two, but if it becomes prolonged, you’ll need to take action and contact your vet.

  • Changes in Social Behavior– Is your dog suddenly abnormally clingy or needy? Vice versa, is your dog suddenly withdrawn, sullen, and refusing to play? Like with people, your dog may be sad and trying to cope with those strong emotions. Give your dog what they need, whether it’s more quality time or more quiet time. Also, if you recently lost a family member, be it human or animal, your dog may visit spots in the house where they once frequented. So, if you notice your dog hanging out in Grandpa’s favorite chair, they’re sad and missing their friend.

  • Negative Behavior Changes– Sadness can be displayed in dogs by changes in their normal behavior. If your house-trained dog is having accidents or if your normally well-behaved pooch is destroying your home, they’re trying to communicate with you that something is wrong. Be patient with them and work together to improve these behaviors and get them back on track.

  • Drooping or Slow Tail Movements– We all know a happy tail wag when we see one, but a dog’s tail also shows their sadness. Keep an eye on it for signs that your pup is feeling blue.

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Why Is My Dog Sad?

Dogs may be more sensitive to changes in environment and routine. We can’t explain to them what’s coming, so there is no time for them to prepare or understand why a change has occurred. As such, they experience strong emotions in those moments. Additionally, we know dogs love, so if your family has recently felt the loss of a loved one or pet, your dog has too. Take some time to grieve together as you both process those tough emotions.

How Can I Cheer Up My Dog When They’re Sad?

Sadness in dogs can be a lot like humans, so you can easily help cheer them up. Take some time to do their favorite activity. Go to the dog park, on a walk in the sunshine, or play fetch with their favorite toy. Your dog loves you and spending some bonding time together is a great way to help them out of their funk. Don’t forget to include their favorite treats, best friends (canine and human), and some good old-fashioned snuggles. By the end of your love fest with your furry friend, you’ll be in a better mood too.


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CJ Silvasi

CJ has always wanted to be a writer. She even threatened to drop out after her first day of kindergarten when they weren’t immediately going to teach her to read and write. Fortunately, she stayed in school, earned her degree in Creative Writing from Christopher Newport University, and now gets to live her best life with her husband, 3 Japanese Chins, and cat writing for AKC Pet Insurance.

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