how to know if dog is sad
Behavioral Problems

Do dogs feel sadness? How to turn that furry frown upside down!

Last winter, I returned home for a holiday break and hit it off with my parents’ new cockapoo. Like, the cockapoo and I really hit it off.

For two weeks straight, we enjoyed leftovers, reality TV, tug-of-war, and long naps together. We were a match made in heaven… until I left.

Soon after, my mom texted me a picture of the cockapoo laying in my bed. He looked miserable. “Can dogs be sad?” she asked. My heart and my google search bar simultaneously exploded.

We all know there’s a clear difference between the puppy dog eyes our dogs flash while watching us eat dinner and a serious shift in their overall mood: lower energy, lack of appetite, refusing their beloved belly rubs, the list goes on.

So, can dogs experience sadness? The answer is yes. If you’ve noticed your dog seems to be moping around lately, he or she may be experiencing a legitimate case of the blues.

Dogs experience mood changes just as humans do, but on a less intense scale. Environment changes, lack of attention, and their owner’s demeanor can all cause a pup to experience temporary bouts of negative emotions like sadness or depression.

You can help a melancholic dog out of their slump by maintaining consistent routines, rewarding good behavior, and – as hard as it may be – giving them some space.

Do dogs feel sadness?

Dogs share our ability to experience a wide array of emotions–excitement, happiness, comfort, fear, and yes, sadness too. However, science indicates that dogs don’t experience these emotions as deeply as humans do and usually bounce back to their normal selves in a short amount of time.

If you’re a fretting pet owner, it helps to keep in mind that your dog’s negative emotions aren’t the result of any chemical imbalances in their brain the way ours can be.

Instead, canine sadness and depressive behavior is typically a result of the dog’s immediate surroundings. Dogs are pros at living in the moment! (Humans, take note.)

do dogs feel sadness?

How do you know if a dog is sad?

While dogs do share our ability to experience emotions, they unfortunately don’t share our ability to communicate about the less-fun ones. As an alternative, these behavioral changes are the clearest indicator(s) that something is up with your pup*:

  • Low energy
  • Lack of excitement around activities, toys, and treats they usually enjoy
  • Little to no appetite
  • Changes in sleeping patterns and/or “cozy spots” around the house (e.g. finding your dog curled up under your bed rather than their usual spot in the living room)
  • No wagging tail/unusual body language
  • Suddenly getting into mischief around the house
  • Barking, whimpering, and/or whining
  • Obsessively chewing or shredding

*These symptoms could also result from other serious health issues. If you’re concerned for your dog’s health, consult with your vet right away.

Remember, external factors may cause your dog to act in a way that you mistake for sadness.

For example, a friend of mine was seriously concerned for her golden retriever when he seemed to seem depressed after enrolling in a doggy daycare. She was surprised to find out he was actually just exhausted from such a spike in his playtime!

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Other owners have shared stories about dogs behaving oddly due to tiring of their everyday food and losing access to their go-to potty area outside.

My dog seems sad all of a sudden

If your dog has quickly turned from their goofy, tug-of-war-playing self to a lethargic gaze of disappointment from the corner, there’s three areas you should reflect on right away.

First, Veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker says that canine mood and behavior changes are usually traceable to a recent event in the dog’s life.

Scan your dog’s day-to-day environment and ask yourself if anything has changed lately.

  • Have you recently moved apartments or started working nights?
  • Did your kids go back to school after a summer at home?
  • Did the neighbor’s dog pass away?

Even changes that may seem minor can affect a dog. In fact, dogs are even known to go through grieving periods after the death of a close human or fellow-dog.

Next, be honest with yourself about the amount of attention your pup has been getting lately. Have you fallen out of your habitual morning fetch sessions? Do you find yourself hushing your dog or telling them to calm down when they haven’t had the chance to run off their energy yet that day?

Trust me, we all have crazy weeks. But dogs – some breeds more than others – do need daily playtime and attention. If you’ve been slacking in the attentiveness department recently, your dog may be feeling sad as a result.

Finally, as the pet’s owner, it can also be helpful to reflect on your recent demeanor. Have you been stressed or upset lately? Even if you haven’t been wearing your heart on your sleeve, dogs can often sense their owner’s emotional frequencies and react accordingly.

do dogs get sad when you leave them?

Do dogs get depressed?

At what point does a sad dog become a depressed dog?

Well, since canines are unable to reason about what is causing their emotions, there’s no obvious distinction between the two. Dogs can certainly exhibit depressive behavior, but these symptoms reflect those of a generally sad dog and usually resolve themselves in due time.

A small number of dogs, however, do seem to experience a downward spiral into long-term depression. In this case, the dog may completely refuse to eat or drink, spend most of their time hiding away from the public, and render themselves seemingly incapable of bouncing back.

In this case, it is highly recommended to consult with a veterinarian. While most dogs in this deep of a funk can still be treated through behavior modification and extra TLC, some may need temporary medication. Less than a year of taking Zoloft, Prozac, or another antidepressant can significantly improve a depressed dog’s state of mind.

Do dogs feel sad when you leave them?

Without fail, I always attempt to explain to my pup that I’ll be back in just a few hours whenever I leave my house for work. And without fail, he always makes me feel like a guilty mother skipping out on the family, never to return again. Sometimes he even whimpers.

A study on how time left alone affects dog welfare did find that dogs tend to have higher levels of activity right after their owner leaves home, often vocalizing and/or pacing: telltale signs of doggy anxiety. It’s heartbreaking to picture, I know.

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Related reading: How to stop your dog chewing furniture when left alone

Most dogs will calm themselves down after about half an hour, but some will fret the entire time you’re away. If your dog displays symptoms of separation anxiety, you can lessen their negative experience in a few ways:

  • Put clothes that smell like you in your dog’s bed, crate, or general area
  • Set aside specific toys for only for when you’re away
  • Ignore your dog when leaving or right after coming home to downplay the event
  • Queue up TV for dogs to help muffle outside noises and offer distraction
  • Slowly desensitize them to being left alone. Try stepping out for 5 minutes and coming back. Was your dog unbothered or pacing around when you returned? Work on this and slowly increase to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes…
  • Try natural calming treats or hemp oil

If you’re boarding your dog for a few days (or even weeks) while you’re out of town, it can also make a world of difference to introduce the dog to their sitter and new setting ahead of time. Not only will they feel more comfortable, but you’ll have the extra peace of mind as well.

how can i help my sad dog?

How can I help my sad dog?

As pet owners, our four-legged friends are more like our four-legged children.

It can be hard to know our dog is struggling silently; I have a personal tendency to whip out my helicopter parenting skills in these times of despair – coddling my pup and rewarding him for…well… everything.

“Oh, you sulked through the entire Today Show! Good boy! Here’s five treats because I love you so much.” Anyone else? Just me?

Regardless, this type of behavior can be the opposite of helpful. When attempting to lift our dog’s spirits, it’s important to not confuse them by rewarding sad behavior. Instead, focus on reinforcing their normal state.

  • Maintain a consistent daily routine for food, walks, and bathroom breaks
  • Reward and encourage normal and/or upbeat behavior
  • Focus on accomplishing some form of physical activity every day
  • Gift a special treat or occasion, like a long car ride or doggy play date

If you find yourself losing time and sleep to cheer up your dog to no avail, the next step may be to give them some space. When a dog has been thrown off kilter by a recent change in their environment, they simply need some time to readjust to the new normal.

Open your arms for boundless TLC when they come asking for it, but support them from afar when they don’t!

Conclusion

My family dog probably did feel sad after his newfound best friend ghosted him two weeks into the relationship. But, in my defense, he also seemed to have forgotten me entirely by my next visit.

Moral of the story? Dogs do get sad, but they also get over it a lot quicker than we tend to. If you’re fretting over your gloomy-looking pup, remember that canine moods and behaviors are greatly influenced by their immediate surroundings.

If you focus on providing a consistent routine and a comforting environment, your dog should bounce back to normal or learn to better cope with being alone in no time. That being said, if an unusual amount of time passes with no change, never hesitate to call your vet.