Do Dogs Cry?

Dogs can feel sadness and they have tears, but the two aren't necessarily related.

If you’ve ever looked into your dog’s eyes while he’s being reprimanded, after he’s stepped on a sharp thorn, or when he’s watching as you leave for the day, then you know that dogs can certainly feel sad—and show it. But do dogs cry?

Dogs experience a range of emotions including happiness, frustration, love, boredom, joy, grief, loyalty, and, yes, sadness, says Linda Simon, a licensed veterinarian and veterinary consultant for ThePets. “And they have ways of expressing each of those feelings.” For example, this is how your pet is trying to say “I love you.” But crying probably isn’t one of those expressions of sadness, according to Dr. Simon.

The bottom line is that dogs do not express sadness the same way we do. “People love to ‘humanize’ our four-legged friends, but while it is fun to assume dogs think the way we do, that’s just not the case,” says veteran dog trainer and behaviorist Jen Jones, founder of Your Dog Advisor. “Dogs are less complicated than humans are, particularly when it comes to their emotions.” In case you were wondering, here’s what dogs think about.

What makes dogs sad?

Dogs feel sad for many of the same reasons we do, like pain, loneliness, loss, and grief, Dr. Simon says. While most doggy sadness is brief, sometimes they can experience very deep and long-lasting sadness. For instance, there have been verified accounts of bereaved dogs who have waited loyally by gravesites day in and day out, longing for their deceased owners to return.

Those aren’t the only reasons, though. Another potential source of sadness is your dog’s compassion for you. When their human is sad, a dog will often express sadness as well, even if they don’t understand why you are upset, Jones says.

Dogs are more emotionally intelligent than we give them credit for, particularly when it comes to reading the feelings of their people. “They are incredibly cued into our feelings, emotions, facial expressions, and even our health,” Jones says. “So, while dogs can’t express sadness or think about it in the same complex way humans do, they certainly do understand and feel much more than we might realize.”

What do dog tears mean?

Fawn Pug DogCandice Pun/Getty Images

Humans appear to be the only animals that cry tears of emotion, Dr. Simon says. That said, you’ve probably noticed your pup’s eyes getting watery upon occasion, and sometimes they may even look grief-stricken at the same time. So, if they’re not crying, then what do their tears mean?

Similar to humans, dogs’ eyes produce tears to keep them clean, protected, and lubricated. However, canine tear ducts are structured differently, funneling the liquid back into their body, rather than spilling out over their cheeks. So if you see your dog “crying” tears, a call to the vet might be in order. According to Dr. Simon, this can signal a blocked tear duct, allergies, something in their eye, an infection, or an injury to the eye.

How do dogs express sadness?

Now that we’ve answered the question, “Do dogs cry?” you might be wondering exactly how they communicate sadness. Dogs have their own distinctive ways, Jones says.

Whimpering or whining. This is one of the first ways that dogs learn to communicate, as puppies instinctually use this noise to “cry out” for their mother. As adult animals, they may continue to use whimpering to communicate with you, particularly if you are responsive to it.

Shaking or trembling. Some dogs will shake or tremble when they are upset, particularly as a response to being reprimanded or to something that scares them, Dr. Simon says. Yelling is one of the 23 things dogs hate when you do.

Hiding. Some dogs, especially those that are sensitive, may hide away in their “safe place,” like in a crate or under a bed, when they are sad, Dr. Simon says. You might also notice this behavior if you have an anxious pet. If that’s the case, take a look at these products that could help your dog’s anxiety.

Asking for extra snuggles. Many dogs will seek human comfort when they are sad; this is often the case if their sadness is related to pain, illness, loneliness, or boredom. If your dog is acting particularly needy, he may be feeling down.

Ignoring you. Refusing to make eye contact with you, not listening to commands, turning his back to you, or going into another room are ways that less sensitive dogs may show that they are upset with you or sad, Dr. Simon says.

Unique cues. Since humans and their pups often have a special bond, some behavior will be unique to them, Jones says. This means you are the one most likely to understand when your dog is sad, and why. For instance, your dog may bring you a comfort object like his blanket, make a unique noise, or do a particular gesture with his paw. The important thing isn’t how he’s showing his sadness but rather that you understand it—and give him extra love. Getting to know your dog’s communication style is one of the things great pet owners do.

Sources:

  • Linda Simon, MVB, MRCVS, a licensed veterinarian and veterinary consultant for ThePets
  • Jen Jones, veteran dog trainer and behaviorist, and the founder of Your Dog Advisor
Dog sitting on armchair in living roomJGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Why Does My Dog Sigh?

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.