Why Does My Dog Look So Sad?

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Your relationship with your dog is incredibly special - they bring you joy, comfort and companionship and somehow always seem more attentive when you're feeling sad or sick. As a loving dog parent, you want to bring that same intuition, and comfort to your beloved pet.

Why do dogs look sad?

You may find yourself debating whether you’re anthropomorphising or whether your dog is actually sad when they look at you with those big eyes and furrowed brow. More importantly, you might be wondering if their sad look could be a sign of a physical or mental health issue? Read on to dig into some answers.

Why Do Dogs Look Sad?

Researchers have sought to understand what causes dogs to make the sad puppy eyes they're known for. A study published by Scientific Reports found that dogs alter their facial expressions in response to human attention. Researchers observed 24 family dogs of various ages and breeds and their reactions to four different scenarios: human attention with food, human attention without food, no human attention with food and no human attention without food. While food didn't impact the dogs' expressions, the researchers found that the dogs were more expressive when a human faced them. In these situations, dogs were more likely to raise the inner eyebrow, making them look sad and more childlike.

Additional research published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences dug deeper into canine facial expressions. The researchers demonstrated that over their 33,000-year domestication from wolves to the lovable pets they are today, the facial muscles that allow dogs to make those sad puppy eyes became more pronounced and this was as a result of humans' preference for this trait.

So if you're wondering why your dog looks sad it may bring you some comfort to learn that the sad longing look in your dog's eyes may not be sadness at all. It may simply be that they're trying to get your attention or convince you that you absolutely did not feed them dinner five minutes ago.

A sad brown and white dog with turquoise eyes looks up.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Depressed?

All this said, dog depression is a real thing. Although they may not be able to tell us, the research is clear that dogs are able to experience a wide range of emotions, which include negative emotions such as fear and anxiety. If you notice your dog exhibiting any of the following:

  • A change in appetite
  • Excessive licking, especially of the paws
  • Disinterest or loss of interest in walks, playtime and/or other formerly loved pastimes
  • Poor sleep or disturbance in sleep patterns
  • Excessive clinginess to you or another family member
  • Sudden destructive behaviours
  • Changes in relationships with other people or pets in the home

It may be an indication that your dog is in pain, not feeling well, or experiencing negative emotions. If you notice any of these signs, it is best to contact your veterinarian. Some dogs display behaviours that suggest they are experiencing grief when a closely bonded individual dies or is no longer around.

Dogs are very attuned to human body language and moods, and may pick up on our sadness after losing a special relationship. If your pet is picking up on your sadness, it's possible that some self-care could be in order. To ensure you're taking the best possible care of your pet, you must also take care of yourself.

Dogs can also feel stressed and depressed for other reasons, such as a major change in their home or living situation. If you've recently taken on a new responsibility and have less time to exercise, play or interact with them, this could be causing boredom or frustration.

Why Does My Dog Look So Sad?

Your dog's big puppy eyes might leave you feeling as though you are missing something crucial, but more important is noticing changes in your dog’s behaviour and consulting your veterinarian or a dog behaviourist if you are worried. (Learn more about veterinary behaviourists and animal behaviourists.)

One of the most important factors in your dog's emotional health is the bond between the two of you. Find things you and your pet love to do and make time for them each day. By allowing ample time for play, exercise and cuddles, you can ensure that you're doing everything possible to keep your dog happy.    

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Instagram @ErinOllila or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.


Reviewed by Dr Aileen Pypers