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Do You Smell Sad?

Are dog noses emotion detectors? We know that dogs have a formidable sense of smell. It’s estimated that an average dog has 600 million smell receptors (compared to only 12 million in you). But can a dog smell things other than food, toys, and each other? Recent studies say yes. They can smell stress, depression, sadness, and grief.

 Dogs can smell the production of various hormones and brain chemicals. Dogs can smell the rise and fall of serotonin (a brain chemical associated with depression). Dogs can also smell cortisol, which determines our anxiety level. 

Scientists in the UK and Italy independently proved that a dog knows if you’re anxious or stressed- and his nose is the key. Stress changes the compounds found in human sweat and breath. In the UK study, when presented with samples from humans before and after a stressful mental exercise, ninety percent of the test dogs could detect which came before and after.

Knowing you’re depressed, sad, or stressed is impressive, but how does your dog react? We know dogs have the highest level of empathy, which is why they have the label “person’s best friend”. Studies have observed that dogs immediately pay attention when they sense a change in their owner. 

img 0492Dogs engage in emotional mirroring when they sense unhappiness. For example, your dog may have his head bowed and his tail tucked, acting as if she’s also sad. Some dogs may lick your face to wipe off tears, whine, or whimper.

They also may spend more time next to you. Most dogs will simply walk to you and sit by your legs, waiting to be noticed. Once they draw attention to themselves, they lean in, not expecting to be petted, but simply being there. If they cannot draw attention slowly, they may try to distract you by inducing a game of fetch. 

Dogs can be emotional absorbers, making your energy their own. If you’re sad for too long, your dog can also get sad. Be alert if your dog seems to be withdrawn, eats less, and loses interest in the usual activities he enjoys doing. All these may tell you your dog is depressed. If this happens, it’s your turn to support him. Go for a walk or visit a friend with another dog to help both of you start to feel better.


When they sense the decrease in hormone production, they feel better about the situation and return to their normal behavior. When your dog gives you licks and cuddles while you’re crying, hug him because he’s doing his best to make you feel better! If you liked how your dog gives you emotional support, let her know by giving him treats and scratching her belly. This way, she’ll do it again when you need it. 

Just another way pets make our lives better.


 AyaMy name is Aya, and I’m a one-year-old husky mix. I’m healthy, active, silly, playful, and friendly. Are you entranced by my captivating blue eyes, and a fluffy curled tail? I think I’m a perfect Colorado dog, ready to join your hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing adventures.

Second Chance Humane Society Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shops service San Miguel, Ouray and Montrose counties. Call the SCHS Helpline at 970-626-2273 to report a lost pet or to learn about adopting a homeless pet and the SCHS spay/neuter, volunteer, feral cat or other programs. View our shelter pets and services at

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