- April
Posted By : PawBoost
Can Dogs Sense Anxiety and Fear? Canine Empathy

This article is contributed by guest writer Paul Andrews (Founder and Author at The Upper Pawside).

Can My Dog Sense Fear, Anxiety, or Depression? Understanding Canine Empathy

At a Glance: Research has shown that dogs are highly attuned to human emotions, and they can pick up on subtle changes in our facial expressions, body language, and even our scent. This ability has been dubbed “canine empathy. This has many benefits for dogs and their owners.

Dogs have been our faithful companions for thousands of years, and they continue to amaze us with their remarkable abilities. One of the most fascinating things about dogs is their ability to sense our emotions and respond in ways that provide comfort and support. Interestingly, dogs have an uncanny ability to pick up on our fear and anxiety, two emotions that can be difficult to control and manage.

In this article, we explore the science behind canine empathy and our pets’ ability to sense our inner turmoil. We answer some common questions, such as “Can dogs sense anxiety attacks?” and “Can dogs sense depression and anxiety?” 

We also discuss the benefits of canine empathy, including how dogs can be used as therapy animals to help people who are struggling with mental health issues. If you’re a dog lover or are simply interested in the fascinating abilities of our four-legged friends, read on to learn more about this fascinating superpower of dogs.

Photo Credit: Maria Rosenburg via Pexels

How Do Dogs Understand Emotions?

Dogs have an incredibly keen sense of smell that allows them to pick up on subtle changes in our body chemistry. When we experience fear or anxiety, our bodies release certain chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that dogs can detect. Additionally, dogs are very good at reading body language and facial expressions. They can pick up on cues that we may not even be aware of such as trembling hands or a furrowed brow.

Can Dogs Sense Anxiety in Humans?

For people who suffer from anxiety attacks, having a dog can be incredibly

beneficial. Many dogs can sense when their owners are experiencing an anxiety attack and will respond in ways that provide comfort and support.

Some dogs may become very attentive to their owners, staying close and offering physical contact such as licking or laying their heads on their owners’ laps. Other dogs may be trained to perform specific tasks, such as retrieving medication or dialing 911.

Photo Credit: Alina Levkovich via Pexels

An Expert Weighs In

“Dogs can be trained to sense anxiety attacks and provide support to their owners during these episodes,” says Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri.

What About Other Emotions?

Yes, dogs can sense a wide range of emotions beyond fear and anxiety. They have a strong ability to read and interpret human body language, facial expressions, and vocal tones, which allows them to pick up on various emotional cues.

Studies have shown that dogs can detect and respond to emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and even jealousy. For example, dogs have been observed to wag their tails and seek attention when their owners are happy while becoming more subdued or anxious when their owners are sad or upset.

In addition, dogs have been trained to recognize and respond to certain emotional cues, such as helping individuals with PTSD who experience panic attacks or other symptoms of anxiety. 

Overall, dogs are highly attuned to human emotions and have a remarkable ability to respond to them in various ways. This ability to sense and respond to our emotions is one reason why dogs are such valuable companions.

Can Dogs Understand Depression and Stress?

Depression is a complex emotional state that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. However, some studies have suggested that dogs may be able to sense when their owners are experiencing depression.

A 2019 experiment studied 58 dogs and owners according to their cortisol levels (the stress hormone). It demonstrated that the cortisol levels among pets reflected the mental states of their owners. Owners with high cortisol levels had dogs with elevated cortisol as well. 

Photo Credit: life._.kor via Pexels

Dogs Can Put Their Own Needs Aside and Respond With Empathy

The fact that dogs can detect distress in people is astounding but even more impressive is their ability to put their own needs aside and respond empathetically to these stimuli. Science Daily published a study that revealed how dogs react to different indicators of human states

During their research, they separated dogs from their owners with a glass door. Owners were asked to hum or cry while their dogs were on the other side. To monitor dogs’ physical reactions, they kept track of how their heart rates changed.

They discovered that dogs not only opened the door faster when they noted crying, but the canines also lowered their stress levels by responding to the situation more quickly.

The exercise revealed that dogs can put their own needs aside so they can respond with empathy. So, the next time your dog cuddles with you or licks your face, know that it may also be because of the emotional cues you’re providing. Reward your empathetic buddy with pets, praise, and treats like dragon fruit for pets.

Photo Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels

The Benefits of Canine Empathy

Can dogs sense anxiety in humans? Yes, and it’s been proven again and again. 

Dogs are more than just pets; they’re often considered part of the family. Many people find comfort in their dog’s unwavering loyalty and love, especially during times of stress or emotional turmoil. It turns out that this is more than just a coincidence. The empathy that we perceive from our pets is genuine and they are affected by our moods in more ways than we originally thought.

Emotional Support

One of the main benefits of canine empathy is the emotional support it provides. Dogs can help us feel calmer and more relaxed when we’re feeling anxious or stressed. They can also provide a sense of companionship and reduce feelings of loneliness, which can be particularly helpful for people who live alone or feel isolated.

Assistance With Physical and Mental Issues

In addition to providing emotional support, dogs can also be trained to assist people with a variety of physical and mental health issues. For example, therapy dogs are often used in hospitals, nursing homes, and schools to help reduce stress and anxiety and promote a sense of well-being. Service dogs, on the other hand, are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities, such as guiding the blind, alerting their owners of impending seizures, and providing mobility assistance.


Overall, the benefits of canine empathy are numerous and far-reaching. Whether you’re looking for a loyal companion to provide emotional support or a highly trained service dog to assist with a disability, dogs have a unique ability to sense and respond to our emotions, making them truly special.


  • I am blessed to have a maltipoo who is very empathetic to my anxiety or sadness. She comes over to me and licks my face. It does calm me down and makes me feel safe.
    I did not know this when I first adopted her. She is so special to me. A true blessing. 🤟❤️🧡

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