Can Dogs Cry?

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Dogs have feelings, no doubt. You’ve probably seen yours looking forlorn, staring into space with glassy eyes that seem like they're about to cry. Are they? Can dogs cry as we do?

Well, this is a subject of debate and it depends on whom you ask. Some respond with a definite “no” while others state that “yes, dogs can cry.” The lack of consensus is more about semantics and so yes, dogs can physically cry but no, they don’t cry due to their emotions.

That said, dogs don't cry in the sense that they’re physically able to shed tears. In turn, humans believe we’re the only animals who cry out of emotion (probably because dogs don’t care too much about explaining the world through science).

Furthermore, a “crying” dog doesn’t shed tears. They mainly express sadness through sad vocalizations, like whimpering and whining. They may also display a lack of interest in things they’re usually excited about. Your dog’s emotions also reflect on their facial expressions. Thus, don’t expect to see tears and if you do, it’s because their tear ducts activate for washing away debris and other irritants from their eyes. 

About Crying

As we mentioned above, we think of “crying” as expelling tears and believe this is only a human way of expressing emotions. We’re convinced that the rest of the animal kingdom tears up for physical, not emotional reasons.

Dogs Only Cry When There’s Something Wrong with Their Eyes

So, the consensus is that only humans cry tears when we’re sad and dog tears are a sign of something wrong in the eyes. Our furry pals have tear ducts and their function is to keep the eyes comfortable and clear of debris. Their tears drain back into the nasal cavity as opposed to dripping from the eye. 

So, you should be concerned when there are tears. This is because they could signify allergies or eye infection, a blocked tear duct, a scratch, etc. Furthermore, take a closer look at your dog’s eyes if you notice tears in them. Consult your vet if it goes on for more than a few hours or over a day.

How Do Dogs Express Emotional Pain?

According to the human definition of “crying,” dogs don’t cry because they don’t shed tears. They do, however, express pain in other ways. For example, puppies, like human babies, learn to verbalize a complaint in order to get attention and receive comfort, and nourishment. The little furballs whine to call out to their mothers when they’re either hurt, cold, hungry, or lonely. They’ll whimper when separated from their human or animal family and sometimes even when they want a treat.

A comparison between dog and human emotions isn’t fair. For one, we humans think about our emotional and psychological composition while our furry pals mainly react out of an impulse to their surroundings. They experience emotions, of course, but tend to adjust their behavior to their needs. Thus, some of their “emotional” expressions might in fact be manipulative. But don’t worry, we don’t care because those large innocent eyes are just darling and we just can’t say no to anything they ask of us.

More on Dog Emotions

Indeed, dogs are masters of manipulation; they’ve perfected the art from the beginning of our symbiotic relationship. Do you think you’re a hundred percent certain of what your dog is feeling? Think again. You might be able to decipher what they want and meet their request. After all, this is the reason why humans and canines bonded in the first place. We want to make them happy because we love their happy-go-lucky attention and affection and they please us to gain a free ride … uh, because we’re wonderful and irresistible.

Of course, your dog will make distinct vocalizations when a member of their pack is physically injured. This is a clear sign that they’re highly empathetic and can express emotional concern. At least according to our human take on how emotions work. Whether dogs can truly feel compassion or not we usually explain based on their ability to read distress and provide comfort. It's just how they got us in the first place … 

Are Dogs Empathetic?

You’ve started crying and the family dog is right by your side, seemingly concerned. Their eyes seem to be telling you that they’re there for you. Of course, you’re ready to believe that your dog is deeply connected with you because they can sense your moods. Not only that, they’re ready to comfort you whenever you feel bad. 

That all makes sense, right? But how does your dog know when you’re upset? Is it your emotions? Perhaps your body language? Or is it something else?

Well, dogs are definitely sensitive to your body language, but scientists disagree about whether or not they’re empathetic. Just to be clear on it, empathy is the understanding of another’s condition from their perspective. It’s about seeing things from their perspective, about the well-known “putting yourself in their shoes” mantra.

The mind of an adult dog is similar to that of a human toddler, according to an article in Psychology Today. Their mental abilities, vocabulary, and emotional intelligence are pretty similar. You may not be aware of it but toddlers lack empathy and the belief is that dogs lack it too even though they’re fully capable of reacting to our emotions.

The aforementioned article mentions that some scientific studies support the idea that our emotions are contagious to our dogs. This kind of contagion happens when we respond to the emotions of others without actually understanding them. That is, your dog doesn’t know exactly what you’re feeling, only that something is up with you. As you can see, your furry pal mainly comforts you because they know you’re bursting at the seams.

How Your Dog Reads Your Emotions

If you have a dog, you already know how sensitive these animals are. They read you in different ways, mainly by paying attention to your voice, body language, facial expressions, and smell, among other things. 

According to a 2015 study, dogs know the difference between you being angry and happy, but don’t know exactly what these mean. Another study by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences found that dogs have “voice areas” in their brains and that these are similar to ours. These areas process any emotional information pertaining to sound. Thus, your dog knows the difference between your happy and sad voices. This is actually similar to the way we read their emotions.

Furthermore, the sense of smell in dogs is quite sharp and they can pick up on any biochemical changes related to our moods and even our state of health. They can smell diseases like cancer, for example. Not only that, these animals are quite sensitive to the way you move when it comes to determining your mood.

In short, dogs react to human emotions even though we don’t really know how they can tell. Don’t worry too much about why or how your dog comforts you when you’re upset though, just enjoy the canine attention.

The Ways in Which Your Dog Comforts You

A dog can comfort you in many ways when you’re sad and their affection is similar to the way we comfort them. You don’t believe it? Well, this animal’s reactions to your emotional distress often include physical contact, distraction tactics, exercise, time out, and mere companionship. 

Physical contact might just be the most common way to comfort someone and dogs know it. They may also try to distract you by bringing you their favorite toy. Perhaps they’ll nudge you while looking at the door implying time outside. After all, physical activity eases depression and anxiety. 

Furthermore, your dog will sense that you’re upset and give you space. Little do they know that the greatest comfort they provide is companionship. Some therapy comfort methods include dogs trained just to sit quietly with you and offer silent support.

Why Dogs are Such Effective Comforters

A better question might be: what about dogs is so comforting? They definitely notice and respond to our emotions so we know they’re a huge comfort. According to some research, the main reason why they are is because they’re not human. This is because human relationships complicate due to judgment, language, and unreasonable expectations. Thus, our relationships with dogs are less complicated. 

As you know, our furry pals are happy-go-lucky and seldom place demands on us. The last thing you need when you’re going through a hard time is a judgemental someone so this loyal companion helps you immensely.

Every animal has a different personality and some of them provide more comfort than others. So, don’t feel bad if your dog doesn’t come running to you when you’re sad. They’ll be there for you as long as you’re there for them.

Understanding Your Dog’s Emotions Through Their Body Language

Dogs are quite easy to read and yet, few of us actually understand them as most only see what we want to see. In turn, the average dog understands about 200 words and will never give a speech, regardless of how many hours you put into trying to teach them. It’s you who must learn their language if you want to effectively communicate with them. You have to look at the body of the dog as a whole; it’s a combination of visual markers you must pay attention to to understand their emotions.

The Body Language of Fear

Fear is often triggered by scary interactions and environments. The most common triggers are loud noises like fireworks, passersby who make your dog believe they’re not respecting their space, and sudden events like storms, earthquakes, falling objects, etc.

Another sign the animal is afraid of something is they avoid eye contact with it, and might even turn the other way. Furthermore, their ears will flatten and the hair on their back might stand on end (similar to the Halloween depictions of cats). Their body will be tense, crouched, the tail tucked between their legs, and their gaze confused. They’ll flicker their tongue and lick their lips and yawn. The most obvious sign is the dog will hide or attempt to distance themselves from the scary thing or event.

Any of the signs mentioned above mean an animal is uncomfortable with a person or situation. They’re unsure about how to respond.

 Joy or Excitement

In turn, holding up a paw to greet you, attempting to hump you, rolling onto their backs to expose their belly are signs your dog is comfortable. They’ll also display a loose body posture with upright or flattened ears and switch quickly between the two. Moreover, they’ll hold their tail high up, loose, and in a very natural position. 

The Science of Crying

According to an article by Time Magazine, there’s more research to be done so as to determine if people who don’t cry are really that different from those who do. The claim is there’s no evidence that crying has positive effects on your health even though most of us think of it as emotional relief.  However, researchers showed a sad movie to people in a laboratory and then measured their moods. They found that those who cry are actually in worse moods than those who don’t cry.

Similarly, there’s evidence to back the notion that crying does provide emotional relief. It seems that one of the most important factors is allowing the expected relief to happen after crying. The reasons for crying are diverse and some people cry more than others. Can we control it? 

There Are Three Different Types of Tears and Each Has Its Own Function

Basal tears are those that coat your eyes all day and blinking spreads them evenly over the eye surface. These kinds of tears hydrate your eyes and thus improve your vision by sharpening your focus. They also protect your eyes by keeping out any debris. Tears also carry oxygen and nutrients to the surface of your eyeballs.

Tears contain water for hydration, mucus to spread the tears over the eyeball surface, oils for lubrication, and to keep your tears from evaporating as well as special proteins to resist infection and antibodies.

Irritant tears are the second kind. These surge out of the glands right under your eyebrow, usually during exposure to certain irritants like the juice of onions when you cut them. Also when you throw up or get something caught in your eyes. These kinds of tears basically wash your eyes out by flushing out irritants.

Finally, emotional tears are those that derive from strong emotions like pain, empathy, compassion, etc. Any moral and sentimental emotions will trigger these tears and they also communicate your emotions to others. These are the kinds of tears that make you feel more vulnerable and often improve your relationships. 

This is because crying connects people in more ways than you can imagine, be it out of love, grief, compassion, or some other strong emotion. Crying brings out the empathetic and compassionate feelings of others and softens the anger and unpleasant emotions that made the tears flow to begin with.

In fact, emotional tears contain more stress hormones and natural painkillers than the other two types. Researchers think tears serve a therapeutic role as they make you feel better but are yet to confirm it through further studies.

So, Can Dogs Cry?

The tears in your dog’s eyes aren’t emotional and you must understand that your furball has their own way of expressing pain, happiness, contempt, etc. Thus, actual tears coming out of their eyes are a sign of something as unimportant as having debris in their eyes to something more serious like corneal ulcers.

Of course, we all instinctively want to comfort our dogs when we see them tearing up. However, you must keep in mind there’s a different cause for it. If your dog’s tears linger then it’s best to have a vet check them to determine the reason and prescribe the medical treatment they may require.

For instance, active dogs are more prone to corneal ulcers. This condition is also known as a scratched cornea, the transparent membrane that covers their eyeball, and happens during rough play with cats. It could also be due to activities that involve going through exploring thick bushes during hikes. 

So, a dog who’s “crying,” tearing up after intense playing outside, might have a scratched cornea. Other signs besides watery eyes are excessive blinking and swelling and pawing at an eye. Treating a scratched cornea is complex and depends on the severity of the wound. Again, consult a veterinarian if you notice any of these signs. Your dog will love you for it and lick you, and lick you, and lick you until you cry your eyes out from all the love they give you as a sign they love the bacon you provide.

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