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Study: Dogs Cry for Joy as Well as Pain

Recent research has focused on how dogs respond to the world they share with us

A recent study looked at dogs reuniting with their human friends:

When a person is overcome with emotion, their feelings stream down their cheeks. Even positive emotions can turn on the waterworks, as people bawl when they win awards, express love for their partners, or are reunited with a long-lost friend.

But these feelings-driven tears may not be a wholly human experience. Dogs can also cry happy tears, according to a study published today (August 22) in Current Biology. Although the animals’ eyes don’t overflow, they well up when they’re reunited with their owners after spending even just hours apart, the researchers found. And they have hunch as to why: a sudden increase in oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, named for its predominant roles in social bonding.

Christine Wilcox, “Dogs Cry Tears of Joy: Study” at The Scientist (August 22, 2022) The paper is open access.

That shouldn’t really be too surprising because the fact that humans and dogs can share emotions is part of what forms bonds between us. But it’s good to have a study on record to refer to.

Here are a couple of other recent entries in dog psychology:

We are told, dogs may mourn the loss of other household pets:

According to a survey, researchers found nearly 90 percent of dogs that experienced the death of another canine companion living in the same house showed signs of grief. In the months following their buddy’s death, dogs were less playful and more fearful. They also had reduced appetites and sought more attention from their owners, reports Clare Wilson for New Scientist.

Signs of mourning were stronger in dogs that had an amicable relationship and shared food with the deceased, reports the Guardian’s Nicola Davis. The study was published last week in Scientific Reports.

Elizabeth Gamillo, “Dogs May Mourn the Loss of Other Household Pets” at Smithsonian Magazine (March 1, 2022)

Dogs’ reaction to emotional loss might be expected. But there are many things they don’t understand. One is that death is permanent (that concept is an abstraction). The dog in the video above needed a lot of intervention to just move on and find a new life. The study at Scientific Reports is open access.

Now, brighter news: According to recent research, playful dogs may be more gifted:

When it comes to verbal labels (the name of things), the most gifted dogs also seem to be more playful than typical dogs.

Personality and cognition are distinct domains, both in humans and in dogs. But some personality traits may influence memorizing problem-solving abilities. It’s been suggested before that personality traits may even predict some cognitive abilities. In humans, it’s been suggested that there is a positive relationship between playfulness and problem solving, but are similar associations present for dogs?

Mihai Andrei, “Most gifted dogs share this trait. Does yours?” at ZME Science (August 16, 2022) The paper is open access.

So the dog who forces his people to exercise may be smarter than the pooch potato, as well as better for them.

You may also wish to read: Do animals truly grieve when other animals die? Yes, certainly, but “death” is, in some ways, an abstraction so there are only some things they understand about it. The dog Hachikō’s lifelong devoted vigil at the train station is touching in part because he could not know that his human friend had actually died.

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Study: Dogs Cry for Joy as Well as Pain