Do Dogs Cry When Reunited With Their Owners?

## Do Dogs Cry When Reunited with Their Owners?

Canines are deeply caring and affectionate animals. Despite their limited range of emotional expressions, dogs develop deep bonds with their human companions and experience emotions like joy, sadness, fear, anger, and most notably, love.

One of the most touching displays of a dog’s love and attachment is the sheer joy and excitement they exhibit when reunited with their owner after a period of separation. The emotional reunion is often characterized by jumping, whimpering, tail wagging, and even shedding tears of happiness.

While dogs may not experience the full spectrum of human emotions, research shows their emotional intelligence is significant. Understanding how dogs communicate their feelings through vocalizations, body language, and yes, even tears, can strengthen the human-canine bond.

Do Dogs Cry Tears

Dogs do not have tear ducts and the ability to produce emotional tears like humans do. However, they can produce tears as a response to irritation or infection in their eyes. When dogs whimper, howl or whine, it may seem as if they are crying in the same way humans cry when experiencing strong emotions. But the tears produced in dogs’ eyes due to emotions serve a different biological purpose than emotional tears in humans.

According to a study by the American Kennel Club, dogs have tear ducts to carry tears from the lacrimal glands by their eyes down the ducts and into the nose. The main purpose of these tears is to lubricate the eyes and protect them from dust and debris. However, dogs do not have the tear ducts necessary to produce emotional tears linked to feelings.

So when a dog is joyful at reuniting with its owner, sad during a departure, or distressed from physical pain, the tears that well up in their eyes are caused by irritation, dryness, or infection rather than emotions. The tears may make dogs appear to be crying in an emotional sense, but the biological process is different from the emotional tear production humans experience.

Other Signs of a Dog’s Emotions

Dogs communicate their emotions through body language and vocalizations. Some key ways dogs express their feelings include:

Tail Wagging

Tail wagging can signify different emotions depending on the speed and direction of the wag.1 A tail held high and wagging briskly back and forth expresses happiness and excitement. A loose, relaxed wag indicates calmness, while a slow wag can mean uncertainty. A tucked tail signals fear, anxiety or submission.


Dogs may whimper to communicate distress, anxiety, pain or sadness.2 Puppies often whimper when separated from their mothers. Whimpering or crying can be a sign that a dog’s needs are not being met.


Barking can indicate different emotions depending on the situation and tone. Alert, excited barking may express happiness or interest. Repeated, rapid barking often signals alarm or fear. Low, constant barking can indicate loneliness, boredom or anxiety.1


Jumping up during greetings is a sign of uncontainable enthusiasm and joy.3 Dogs may also jump up when anxious or wanting attention. Excessive jumping can indicate a lack of training and boundaries.

Why Do Dogs Cry

One of the most common reasons dogs’ eyes water is due to medical issues or irritations. According to WebMD, eye discharge is often a sign of infection, allergies, or other eye problems like glaucoma or dry eye (source). Irritants like dust, dirt, or foreign objects can cause the eyes to produce more tears and mucus as well. PetMD notes that conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the membrane lining the eye, leads to increased tear production and discharge (source). Other irritants like pollen, cigarette smoke, or grooming products may similarly provoke a dog’s eyes to water. In most cases, addressing the underlying medical condition or removing the source of irritation will stop excess eye discharge.

If a dog’s eyes appear red, swollen, or have green or yellow discharge, it’s best to take them to the vet for evaluation and treatment. But if the discharge is clear and watery, it may simply be the eyes responding naturally to transient irritants in the environment. Keeping the dog’s eyes clean and monitoring for worsening symptoms can help determine if medical intervention is needed.

Do Dogs Recognize Their Owners

Most dogs are able to recognize faces and scents to identify people they know. Research has shown that dogs can recognize human and dog faces, including their owners. Dogs have a strong sense of smell and can detect their owner’s specific scent. When dogs greet each other, they often sniff each other’s faces and rear ends as a way to gather information. Dogs also use their excellent sense of smell to distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar people.

There are several factors that allow dogs to recognize their owners including:

  • Scent – Each human has a unique scent profile. Dogs can detect this scent to recognize their owner.
  • Visual Recognition – Dogs are able to visually recognize and distinguish between faces.
  • Voice – Dogs recognize their owner’s voice and intonations.
  • Association – Dogs associate their owners with positive experiences and rewards.

Research shows that dogs are similarly skilled to humans at recognizing faces, even after the face has been visually obscured. Some studies indicate dogs can recognize their owners’ faces from photographs. The ability to recognize and distinguish between familiar people and strangers is an important survival mechanism for dogs. Overall, dogs have excellent capabilities when it comes to recognizing their owners.

Reunion Reactions

When dogs are reunited with their owners after a period of separation, they often exhibit excited behaviors as an expression of joy, according to Tendencies Of A Dog When The Owner Gets Back Home. Common reactions include jumping up, licking their owner’s face, and wagging their tail. These behaviors are a sign that dogs recognize their owners and are happy to see them.

Dogs are able to detect familiar cues that signal their owner is returning home, which causes anticipation and excitement, as explained in Five Ways Dogs Know You’re Coming Home. They can hear a specific car engine, keys jingling, and footsteps approaching. Once the dog hears and sees signs of their owner, they often wait eagerly by the door.

The excited greeting when an owner returns is a dog’s way of expressing affection. Dogs form attachments to their owners and miss that companionship when separated. According to Can dogs sense when their owners are coming home, that strong bond causes dogs to react so joyfully at reunion.

Love and Attachment

The bond between dogs and their owners is similar to the attachment between infants and caregivers, according to research by Payne et al. (2015) Dogs form attachments to their owners that are characterized by proximity-seeking behavior, safe haven, secure base effects, and distress upon separation – all hallmarks of human infant attachment.

An owner’s attachment style can also influence the dog’s behavior and ability to obtain support, as found in a study by Rehn et al. (2017) Dogs with securely attached owners tend to be more sociable, exploratory and playful. Insecurely attached owners have dogs who show more distress behaviors and aggression.

The depth of the dog-owner bond points to dogs’ ability to form meaningful emotional connections. When reunited after separation, this attachment is likely to manifest in excited, affectionate behaviors from dogs. The strength of attachment may factor into the intensity of the reunion response.

Interpreting a Dog’s Emotions

While dogs do express emotions through body language, vocalizations, and facial expressions, it is difficult to conclusively determine their precise internal emotional state. As the RSPCA notes, “Interpreting animals’ emotions is complex and the emotional state of an animal can never be known for certain.”1 Much of what we perceive about a dog’s emotions is based on human interpretation of their behaviors and appearance. Additionally, a dog’s emotional expressions may not always align with what they are feeling internally.

There are still many unknowns when it comes to canine emotions and cognition. As VCA Animal Hospitals states, “We cannot ever know for sure whether other creatures experience emotions in the same ways that we do.”2 While dogs do seem to experience basic emotions, the full extent and complexity of their inner emotional lives remains scientifically ambiguous.

Other Factors

A dog’s breed, age, and training can influence their emotional responses and likelihood to cry or tear up when reunited with owners. Certain breeds, like Labrador Retrievers, are known to be more emotionally sensitive and prone to expressing joy through physical behaviors like jumping and crying. Puppies may cry more readily when reunited because they are still forming secure attachments to their owners.

Well-socialized and trained dogs who see their owners frequently are less likely to have intense emotional reactions compared to dogs who are anxious due to isolation or lack of training. Proper socialization and training can help dogs regulate their emotions and not become overstimulated when reunited after absences. Overall, a dog’s individual personality plays a big role in how emotionally expressive they are.


In summary, while dogs may not shed actual tears when reunited with their owners, they do exhibit strong emotional responses. Dogs form deep attachments and bonds with their human families. When reunited after an absence, dogs often appear extremely excited and overjoyed, showing their emotions through barking, jumping, licking, and whining. Their enthusiastic greeting demonstrates just how much they missed their owners. While they may not cry in the human sense, their joyful reunion behaviors certainly suggest dogs experience complex emotions equivalent to crying tears of happiness. So even without true weeping, dogs clearly feel intense love and attachment to their human companions.

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