When I was a kid, the old dog books I flipped through in the library would say, when you first come home, ignore your dog.
It’s one of our favorite things about dogs – how they go mad when we get back to them, whether we’ve been away for five minutes or five days.
But sometimes their homecoming celebrations are associated with unwelcome behavior, such as jumping up, barking or urinating off a dribble. The idea of the old training advice was to be indifferent, hoping we could imitate our dogs and no big deal when we got home.
Maybe their happy-your-home dance is some kind of evolutionary behavior, not a real manifestation of happiness.
But this new study from Japan is solid evidence that dogs really love us very much. Japan can be weird sometimes…but we already know that too.
Experiment: Do Dogs Cry Emotionally?
The study, recently published in the journal Creative Biology, was conducted by researchers at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Azabu University in Japan.
The researchers used the Schirmer tear test (STT) to measure the dogs’ tear production. The STT test involves placing a small, thin strip of filter paper under the lower eyelid. The strips stick out vertically and change color when wet, allowing tear generation to be monitored.
The STT test is commonly used to measure tear production in dogs and to help diagnose dry eye, so it’s not as strange as it sounds.
The researchers found that dogs shed tears when they were reunited with their owners after being separated from their owners for about 5-7 hours. More tears were shed when they were reunited with their primary caregivers.
In humans, our tears have different chemical compositions, depending on how we feel. When we’re emotional, some of our stress hormones actually get expelled from our tears. This is why we often feel better after crying. In addition, the sight and smell of our tears can influence the behavior of others.
At this point we don’t know if the composition of dog tears changes with mood.
But there is another interesting part of this study.
Humans saw pictures of dogs — some with artificial tears, some without. Human tests responded more positively to teary-eyed dogs.
Remember those ASPCA commercials with sad-eyed footage of neglected animals playing Sarah McLachlan’s song “Angel’s Arms”?
Maybe that’s why these ads grab our heartstrings so effectively. We can’t resist teary-eyed animals.
Does your dog cry?
While research tells us that dogs may cry when they are happy to see us, most of us would agree that our dogs don’t actually cry.
Cow’s eyes never shed tears. But Matilda has really good eyes.
When she wanted to eat, or when it took me too long to get her covered in bed, she would shiver, whine and look at me with big, wet eyes.
I keep attributing this to her being a puppy. The tear ducts in small dogs tend to have such a shape that normal, non-emotional eye-lubricating tears tend to run down the face. This is why our puppies are prone to eye scabs and tear marks.
Now I know that those tears were most likely a display of emotion.
I think cows are my more emotional dogs. She experiences extreme highs and lows, and she is prone to anxiety and confusion. I didn’t notice her tearing, and I rarely needed to clean around her eyes.
How to deal with a crying dog
Back to how we should react to dogs when we get home…
Although they may cry, dogs can still exhibit unwelcome behavior when we walk through the door.
Even if your dog is just happy to see you, she may not be able to accept it when you come home.
When we deal with unwelcome behavior, we must put empathy first. Our dogs have trouble controlling themselves when they are emotional.
We can prevent these behaviors by intuition – without ignoring our dog’s emotional needs.
Why do dogs pounce on us when we get home? This is usually because they can’t wait to greet us.
But it hurts when the cow jumps on me.
What helped was speaking to her in a soft voice when I got home. I didn’t come in through the door until she sat down. When she has time to calm down, I’ll lower her level – so she doesn’t have to jump up and approach me – and give her the love and attention she’s looking for.
I don’t think there’s any point in completely ignoring a dog who’s happy to see you — but you don’t have to make coming home a big deal either.
Imagine your spouse or child running up to give you a big hug and kiss when you get home – but maybe you have a headache so their excitement is overwhelming.
Will you kneel them on your chest (as old dog training advice suggests!) – or will you gently calm them down and return the love?
When our dogs have strong feelings, they turn to us for comfort—one of the most wonderful things in the world. When we meet their emotional needs, it’s much easier to encourage the behaviors we want to see.