Do Dogs Cry? Experts Explain Dog Tears

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 they’re being reprimanded, after they’ve stepped on a sharp thorn or as they watch you leave for the day, then you don’t have to be an expert on dog behavior to know that dogs can certainly feel sad—and show it. A new study even suggests that dogs can shed happy tears when reunited with their owner. But … do dogs cry?

Your sweet pooch could suffer from dog depression or dog anxiety, and they certainly make noises that sound a lot like crying to us, particularly if we’re trying to train them not to sleep on our bed at night. We just had to find out if those heartbreaking puppy sounds mean that dogs can cry like humans, so we asked the experts.

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,” she adds. However, crying probably isn’t one of those expressions of sadness.

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.” If you think you’re overthinking your dog’s feelings, know that this is what your dog is actually thinking about.

What makes dogs sad?

Dogs feel sad for many of the same reasons we do, like pain, loneliness, loss and grief, says Dr. Simon. 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. Remember, there are lots of ways pets say, “I love you.

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—which is just one of the things your dog knows about you. “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.”

How do dogs cry?

sad pug dog laying on a dark couchCandice Pun/Getty Images

Dogs can cry in one of two ways: vocally, in a way that tugs at our heartstrings, and with tears. When it comes to those sad-sounding noises, your pooch is most likely trying to express excitement, frustration, anxiety or pain. They could also be seeking attention, looking for a treat or they might need to be let out to do their business. If your dog cries at night and you don’t let them sleep in your room, they’re probably hoping to be let in to sleep with you. It could also be one of these things your dog wishes you knew.

However, Dr. Simon notes that humans appear to be the only animals that cry tears of emotion, so if you see your pup’s eyes getting watery, those tears most likely aren’t indicative of their feelings. But what do those dog 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 it 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. Watch out for signs your dog is actually sick.

How do dogs express sadness?

Dogs can cry like humans, but it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as when we cry from our emotions. However, when it comes to communicating sadness, dogs have their own distinctive ways, Jones says. When dogs cry, here’s what it could mean.

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.

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, there are 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 they are sad or upset with you, 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 habits of great dog owners.

Can dogs cry tears of joy?

New research says that yes, dogs can cry tears of joy! Dog owners know all too well the emotional reunions they have with their dogs—with tail-wagging, barking, licking, jumping and gazing. Sometimes dogs get so excited they even pee. Scientists found that this socio-emotional relationship is a powerful one.

A 2022 study published in Current Biology examined 22 dog-owner pairs and noted that when the dogs saw their owners after spending five to seven hours apart, the dogs produced tears, which may be related to the release of the bonding hormone, oxytocin. Additionally, when the dogs were greeted by familiar non-owners, researchers found significantly decreased tear volume. Yes, even science says that your pup loves you abundantly!

Sources:

  • Linda Simon, MVB, MRCVS, licensed veterinarian and veterinary consultant for ThePets
  • Jen Jones, veteran dog trainer and behaviorist, and founder of Your Dog Advisor
  • Current Biology: “Increase of tear volume in dogs after reunion with owners is mediated by oxytocin”
Dog sitting on armchair in living roomJGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

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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.