How Dogs Can Tell You Need Comfort: The Cues They Pick Up On

Dogs are universally known as man’s best friend for a reason. Our connection with our pet dogs is so close that they often come and comfort us when we are feeling sad or hopeless.

· 5 min read

Dogs are universally known as man’s best friend for a reason. Our connection with our pet dogs is so close that they often come and comfort us when we are feeling sad or hopeless. It makes us feel good, and it strengthens our bond, but how do they know that we need their affection?

The relationship between dogs and humans is fascinating, and it is one that is fairly unique. The evolution of our bond with our furry friends is one that is only continuing, and in this guide, we will explain why we are so close to dogs and how they pick up on our need for their support. By the end of this read, if you love dogs, we guarantee you’ll be pretty interested in the topic we’re presenting.


Why are Dogs So Close and Bonded to Humans?

The relationship between dogs and humans is one that can be described as symbiotic, but not in an alarming or harmful way. Domestic dogs have been separated from wolves for around 100,000 years, and in that time they have developed a strong bond with humans.

While some argue that it was dogs that domesticated us, it was more of a mutual thing. Dogs provided us with protection for livestock, people, and children. They were watchers, guardians, hunters, and expert trackers. In exchange for their services, we gave them protection, a place to sleep, food, and our affection.

As a result, changes were made in the brains of each species over time. In humans, our sense of smell and hearing was reduced because of our reliance on dogs for protection. Our brains actually shrunk by a tenth as a result. In dogs, the changes in their brains were similar to livestock - shrinking by 20% because they no longer needed protection from other predators.

Dogs are able to read human body language in a way that even chimps have not been able to determine yet. They are able to follow our gaze precisely in order to determine what we are looking at, and that is a monumental step in communication evolution.


What is a Dog’s Emotional State Like?

Dogs experience emotion, and research has shown that they have a similar brain composition to that of a toddler. This includes emotional range, vocabulary, and mental capabilities. What this also means is that they have the potential to experience empathy - although the scientific community is divided on that one.

However, in a world where we so specifically class sentience without even knowing how to properly measure it (considering the animals classed as sentient are often changing), we can’t really be sure that dogs don’t experience emotions like empathy.

They clearly feel joy, sadness, and depression has been commonly documented after a loss - even though the scientific community is reluctant to class it as grief, it is just that. If ravens and elephants can be shown to host funerals, why is it far-fetched that a dog can understand the concept of death? This is a complex argument for another time, but I maintain that dogs have been shown (and consistently shown us as people) that they have a range of emotions.

Can Dogs Feel Love?

Yes, that is one emotion science has been able to prove exists in dogs. Studies undertaken on dogs showed the area of the brain associated with the emotion love and other positive emotions lit up when their owners walked into the room. This is promising and is a further testament to the canine comprehension of emotion.

How Do Dogs Pick Up On What We’re Feeling?

As I mentioned previously, dogs are able to read our body language to a level that even primates have not been able to reach. Even our facial expressions are readable to dogs, which you may have noticed when telling them off in the past. This is part of the bond we have formed with them over thousands of years, but their reading of our emotions extends beyond this.

The way we smell can be a clear indicator of our emotions, and while this might seem implausible to humans, the intense sense of smell that a dog possesses means that they can detect things like this. It’s similar to how there are dogs out there that can smell cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s in people.

Of course, our voice is a clear indicator of our mood, and any dog owner knows this. They can tell when we are angry with them or pleased with their behaviour. At the same time, they are also able to tell if we are in emotional distress or not feeling ourselves.

How Do Our Dogs Comfort Us?

The way in which our dogs comfort us is fairly easy to determine, and as a dog owner, you’ve probably experienced it countless times. The way they paw your hands when you’re crying or lean right up against you when you need them most. Physical contact is a huge indicator of comfort among dogs and translates well to humans.

Many dogs will lay down on top of their owners, especially when they are extremely depressed, and you might notice them licking your face. While their intention might not be to make you laugh when they lick your tears away, it certainly works every time.

You might even notice that your dog brings you toys when you’re sad or crying, and this is a form of distraction from your emotions, similar to what you do for them when they seem down - playing a game of fetch or tug. Sometimes your dog may just leave you alone completely, and this is because they are waiting for you to be ready for them - giving you space.

Why Does the Comfort Dogs Provide Seem to Always Help Us?

Just hugging your dog causes your body to produce oxytocin, the feel-good hormone responsible for helping you feel calm and relaxed. Oxytocin can reduce the amount of cortisol in your body (the stress hormone) at the same time. Dogs’ affection can also give us a much-needed dopamine boost (responsible for the pleasure center) to help lift our mood. Little things like that can have a huge impact on your day.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot to think about, but the truth is that dogs feel more than we think, and they have a deep connection with us that cannot be compared to that of any other animal. Dogs are incredible in that they can befriend practically any species, and it will be fascinating to see where their evolutionary trail takes them next.

While you’re here, why not get your canine best friend a DNA test from CirclePaw? This at-home DNA test for dogs simply requires a cheek swab from your dog, and will give you a detailed analysis of which breeds they are, as well as any potential health risks or genetic disorders you need to be aware of. This DNA test for dogs will help you take great care of your dog, the same way they take great care of you.


  1. Psychology Today, Why are Humans and Dogs So Good at Living Together?:
  2. Psychology Today, Canine Empathy: Your Dog Really Does Care If You Are Unhappy:
  3. NCBI, Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) grieve over the loss of a conspecific:
  4. VCA Hospitals, Does My Dog Love Me?:
  5. NCBI, Paws for Thought: A Controlled Study Investigating the Benefits of Interacting with a House-Trained Dog on University Students Mood and Anxiety: