Humans are fairly emotional animals, and we often rely on the comfort and care of others to help us feel better. Many times, we often turn to our beloved four-legged companions for that comfort. We often hear feel good stories of dogs who comfort their owners during times of stress and grief, or of service dogs who help their handlers when they are having a panic attack.
While many dogs may naturally want to comfort us when we are crying and upset, others may not. We might feel even more upset if we go to our dogs to feel better only to have them rebuke us. But why do some dogs not care when we cry?
Most dogs will not naturally comfort you in the way that you expect comfort while you are crying. Dogs have a different understanding of both human sadness and the act of comfort. While some dogs may be more inclined to comfort their crying owners, it’s often in a way that’s different from the traditional sense.
Below we’ll discuss the possible reasons as to why a dog may not be able to comfort their owner when their owner is crying or upset.
We’ll also discuss whether it’s a bad thing if your pup doesn’t show any comforting behavior, and how you can possibly teach your dog to offer a little more comfort to you during your time of need. Finally, we’ll talk about whether certain dogs are more or less likely to comfort you when you are crying.
5 Reasons Why Your Dog Doesn’t Comfort You When You Are Crying
The reason as to why your dog doesn’t comfort you could change based on the situation you and your pup find yourselves in. Just like people, individual dogs have different tolerances and comfort levels when it comes to dealing with powerful emotions.
Some dogs may naturally want to be near you when you are crying, whereas others may not (don’t worry…they aren’t getting tired of you!). Some dogs may only stay around for a short while or when the crying is soft and quiet.
But in general, most dogs do not comfort their owner when their owner is crying due to one (or more) of the following reasons.
Reason 1: Dogs Don’t Understand Human Emotions
The primary reason why your dog likely isn’t comforting you while you are crying is because dogs do not understand human emotions in the way that we understand them. Dogs can feel happy, sad, or even angry, but their emotional spectrum is not as complex as a human’s, and their way of showing such emotions is different from how we show them.
When you are sad and crying, your dog may not comfort you because they don’t actually know that you are sad or crying. If they do comfort you, it is likely because they have made an association between your crying and something else that either comforts or discomforts them (such as going for a walk to clear your head or throwing something in anger).
They learned through a process called classical conditioning that your crying and the behaviors you do while sad lead to another outcome (either pleasant or unpleasant).
It is rare that a dog will naturally attempt to comfort you without any history of being around you while you are crying, though there are some breeds that are more prone to this, and specially trained dogs may also do this (which I’ll discuss in more detail later on) with training.
Dogs who have been around you for a very long time may also display appeasement behaviors like lip licking, nudging with their nose, pawing, or rolling over on their backs to expose their bellies when they see you are sad.
Appeasement behaviors are done to both humans and dogs alike, and many dogs will perform them towards humans if they are in a conflicted state of emotion (usually confusion as to why their owner is acting the way they are) in an attempt to show their owner that they (the dog) mean them no harm.
We, humans, interpret this as a gesture of comfort, and while in some way it may be there is still much research that needs to be done on just how much dogs are able to understand when it comes to their behaviors around more complex human emotions like sadness and grief.
Reason 2: Your Body Language Is Confusing Them
Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and every tiny movement we humans make is a big signal to them. Often when we are in a state of distress and crying, our body language can be very confusing, and we may be giving off mixed signals.
If we do not cry very often, our dogs may also become anxious by the body language we are showing because they have not experienced it before. If our dog avoids us when we are crying, it may be because they are uncomfortable with the body language we are displaying and don’t know what to make of it, so instead they’ll choose to remove themselves from the situation.
Alternatively, they may try to work out what we are trying to “say” and will do whatever they can to try and “answer” what we are asking them to do. This is where you can see appeasement behaviors, but you can also see play behaviors like the play bow, barking, whining, or even the dog performing various obedience behaviors like “Sit”, “Down”, or “Crawl” in an attempt to try and decipher what our crying bodies are telling them.
While all of these things may seem odd to us, it could be that these things are, in a way, a dog’s way of trying to comfort us (or at least get us to give them more clear directions with our body language).
Reason 3: They Haven’t Been Taught To Comfort You
In many instances, a dog that is actively comforting someone has actually been trained to provide comfort. You can see this in service dogs, therapy dogs, and some emotional assistance dogs.
Before training even begins, service dogs and therapy dogs go through a rigorous selection process to ensure that the dog is comfortable with people in distress. This is also why you often see service dogs and therapy dogs that are similar in breed type, which I’ll discuss more in-depth in the next section.
Depending on the individual’s needs, a service dog may be taught specific behaviors to help comfort their owner during times of distress, such as a PTSD service dog who assists their owner. While these dogs may be comfortable being around people in distress, many of them don’t actually comfort their owners (or the public, if they are a therapy dog) until after they’ve received appropriate training.
Service dog training is vast and can vary based on the individual needs of the handler, but in most cases, the dogs are taught to respond in a certain way to a certain action the owner is doing, or to a certain change in the owner’s body language or scent.
Therapy dogs, while they are not taught specific tasks and do not assist a single handler, often go through desensitization training where they are taught to relax more around individuals who are in distress. They are rewarded for maintaining their calm in stressful situations and the training can be extensive.
Emotional assistance animals do not usually receive any type of training, and like any other dog they may or may not naturally comfort their owner.
Reason 4: They Are A Breed Which Is Not Known To Be Sociable
It’s no secret that certain breeds are known to be more sociable and cuddlier than other breeds. This sociable behavior also extends to how likely a dog may be to comfort you while you are crying.
While every dog is an individual and their breed is only one part of their personality, breeds that have a reputation for being companions and family friendly do tend to be more likely to respond to you when you are crying than other breeds who may just leave the room.
Breeds in the Toy, Hound, and Sporting groups may be more likely to show an owner a version of comfort behavior, whereas breeds within the Working and Herding groups may vary more based on the individual dog.
As an example, only one of my German Shepherds will comfort me when I am sad, whereas the other Shepherd will disappear from the room.
Reason 5: They Actually ARE Comforting You…In Their Own Way!
Like the differences in emotions, dogs also have a different way of comforting each other than people do. If you find your dog doing odd things while you are crying, it may be they ARE actually trying to comfort you, but it’s just in a way that isn’t what you expect.
Playing, bringing you toys or other objects (even odd things like your socks or shoes), barking at you, spinning around…all of those behaviors could be your pup’s way of saying he’s trying to understand what you need.
Just check this video!
Is It Bad If My Dog Ignore/Avoid Me When I Cry?
No, it is not bad if your dog doesn’t comfort you when you cry. Again, dogs do not understand human emotions and their definition of comfort is usually much different than ours.
Some of the odd, funny, or even cute behaviors that they might engage in while we are crying could be their way of comforting us but it’s hard to tell without more research into how a dog understands human emotions and the behaviors associated with them.
Can I Teach My Dog To Comfort Me When I Cry?
Yes, you can teach your dog to comfort you when you cry BUT it depends on the individual dog.
If your pup is very timid or reacts in a negative or stressful manner when you are crying, it’s probably best to let them be. But if your dog does show some signs of wanting to be near you while you are crying, then you can work towards teaching them to do certain behaviors while you are crying.
Dogs are great at helping us process difficult emotions and even if they don’t know they are comforting us, they can absolutely help us feel better!
Service dogs and therapy dogs require different types of complex training, but if you are just interested in having your four-legged friend be a little more available the next time you need to let it all out, you can work on teaching them to be calm while you are petting or holding them.
You would want to start by holding and petting them when you are not crying or upset and reward them heavily every time they stay still. Assigning a verbal cue such as “comfort” or even just “Sit/Stay” can help when it comes time to instruct your dog to comfort you when you are crying.
The next time you are crying, give your dog their cue and reward them when they come to you. If at any point your dog starts showing stressful body language or tries to opt out of being held or petted, don’t force them to stay.
Are Some Dogs More Likely To Comfort Me When I Cry?
As I discussed above, there may be certain breeds of dogs that are more prone to sticking around and trying to comfort you (in their own way) while you are crying, but it is truly an individual dog thing and you shouldn’t expect a dog of a certain breed to behave in a certain way just because it’s typical of the breed.
Sometimes females in estrus or throughout the whelping period can show more affection towards their owner, and this can carry over into when their owners are crying.
Dogs who have been raised around young children may not always be inclined to be around you when you are crying and it should not be expected of them to comfort a crying child, either. Dogs may also be more likely to comfort a crying owner if they feel they will get something good out of it (like dinner).
While individual dogs or specially trained dogs may respond to us while we are crying, in general, it’s not usually something that dogs do naturally. Dogs do not experience emotions in the exact same fashion as we do (though they do experience some similar emotions), and their understanding and display of comforting behavior can be much different than our own.
While we shouldn’t force our pups to try and comfort us when we are sad, we can still use them for comfort and respect their boundaries at the same time by petting them or playing with them in ways that bring them happiness.
Most of the time if our pups are happy, we become just a bit happier, too!