While dogs do appear to have a way of showing they're upset, they don't cry exactly the same way people do. They show their emotions in different ways. As someone who specializes in canine behavior, I have gathered some fascinating insights into how dogs communicate their feelings that I'd love to share with you.
Dogs Don't Cry Tears Like People
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, dogs don't cry like people do. Dogs may seem like they're showing sadness when their eyes are watering, but they don't actually shed tears like humans do when they're upset. Their way of expressing emotions is quite different.
Dogs have tear ducts that are designed to drain into their nose and throat instead of their eyes. So, if you see what looks like tears in your dog's eyes, it's not because they're sad. It might actually be a sign of a health issue, and it's a good idea to check with your vet.
How Dogs Feel Emotion
Dogs rely heavily on vocalizations to communicate a range of emotions, including sadness. These vocalizations could range from barks to howls to more subtle whines and sighs. Each of these can convey different emotions or desires, and understanding these can help you better connect with and care for your dog. Physical behaviors also play a significant role in how dogs express their feelings. Things like pacing, excessive licking, or changes in eating and sleeping patterns can be signs of anxiety, stress, or sadness.
Through my experiences as a canine behaviorist, I've learned that each dog has their own unique way of expressing emotions. Paying attention to these subtle cues can greatly enhance your ability to understand and respond to your dog's needs and desires and strengthen the bond you share.
It's incredibly important for you to learn your dog's body language and vocalizations to remove the language barrier and communicate effectively.
How Do Dogs Cry?
When it comes to emotions, dogs definitely feel them, but they don't express them in the same way humans do. Their expressions of negative feelings are more about behavior than tears. The whining or whimpering sounds they make are the closest thing they have to crying.
Why Your Dog is Crying and How to Help
What you do to help depends on why your dog is crying. There are a number of reasons why your dog may be making these vocalizations and displaying body language and behavior. How you react should depend on the root cause.
If you need help determining the reason your dog is whimpering, you can ask your vet for a referral to a behaviorist. If they don't know of any, check out who is on Google, but make sure to check their background (experience and/or education) before hiring them to assist.
They're Asking for Something
In my experience as a canine behaviorist, the most common reason dogs cry is because they want something. When their owner reaches up for the treat bag on top of the refrigerator, for example, their dog will cry and beg to get the treat. This is their way of asking you for some tasty snacks. They may also want a walk, food in their bowl, or a toy that's out of reach. Look around and see if there's anything they may be asking for.
If your dog is whining continuously and wants to go outside to pee more frequently than normal, make an appointment with the vet to check for an underlying medical problem.
They Want More Attention
Even if you have spent all day loving up on your dog, they may still cry for more attention when you get up or follow you everywhere. This is particularly common in dogs experiencing severe separation anxiety. They may feel the need to be in the same room with you at all times. If this is the case, check out our article on positive ways to help dogs cope with separation anxiety.
They're in Pain
Many of the dogs I have seen whining due to pain are seniors, but there are, of course, dogs that may be whining from pain due to an injury or other medical issues. For example, one of the dogs I worked with cried when they were hopping into the car. The veterinarian had told their owner the dog had developed arthritis. Dogs hide pain for as long as possible, so if your dog is whimpering in pain, it's time to make a vet appointment.
As a canine behaviorist, I will not accept a client without first getting medical clearance. If your behaviorist doesn't recommend this, especially if your dog appears to be in pain, that's a red flag.
Your Dog is Showing Submission
If your dog wants to let you know you're the dominant party, they may whine to let you know they're submissive. If they did something to upset you, this may also be their way of communicating that they recognize what they weren't supposed to do.
How Will We Know?
When a dog wants something, feels anxious, or needs attention, they will typically make whimpering or whining sounds. They may also show changes in their body language, such as a tucked tail or flattened ears, which can indicate they're feeling uneasy or upset. This behavior is a dog's closest match to the human act of crying.
Dogs Whining When They See You
Videos showing dogs whining as they greet owners who have been away for some time, like servicemen and women returning from a tour of duty, are common, and I admit they make me cry, too. In these instances, the dog is crying because they are overly excited and want their owner's full attention. You may notice a wagging tail and playful body language in addition to the whining vocalization.
Some dogs will do this even if the last time they saw you was a few hours ago, but the intensity may increase with the length of time away and bond strength (even if you have a strong bond, your dog may not cry—all dogs are different).
The Myth About Dogs Nighttime Whining
Across various cultures, there are myths and legends suggesting that a dog's crying at night means there are ominous events coming. This could include the arrival of ghosts, demons, or even death. While this may be a prominent belief, dogs crying during the night is a fairly common behavior. This nighttime crying or whining is often a sign of anxiety or stress in dogs.
Young puppies frequently cry at night, especially if they're separated from their owners and left in a crate or another room. This separation can cause them to feel anxious or scared. Similarly, older dogs, particularly those suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction, might cry more during the night. For these senior dogs, the darkness can heighten feelings of confusion and disorientation, leading to increased vocalizations.
Getting to Know Your Individual Dog
Studying general canine behavior and vocalizations is a great starting point for understanding how dogs communicate. By learning about common behaviors and sounds, you can gain a basic understanding of what dogs, in general, are trying to convey. As you spend more time with your dog and learn more about their communication, you'll start to notice the subtleties in their behavior and vocalizations that are unique to them.