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Dogs May Tear Up (With Joy) When Reunited With Owners: Research

A hand petting a happy white-and-brown dog

We’ve heard of alligator tears to describe superficial or exaggerated emotion, but what about dog tears? 

It looks like in our canine friends, tears can signal emotion too, particularly tears of joy – and especially when our pawesome pets are reunited with their owners (we don’t blame you if you want to well up yourself now that you know this adorable fact).  

Related: Is your dog ‘gifted’? Here are two clues — according to scientists.

A woman gives her yellow dog a kiss on the head

Recent research out of Japan suggests that — in addition to that trademark wagging tail, jumping, excited yelping and any other way your pup may show their excitement upon seeing you — dogs can also well up with literal tears of happiness following a period of separation (in this case, five to seven hours). 

Importantly, the tears may play a role in the way our furry family friends bond with their humans (a relationship that’s existed for tens of thousands of years). 

Researchers from the Laboratory of Human-Animal Interaction and Reciprocity at Azabu University in Japan point out that, just like humans, dogs have tear ducts and can shed tears to keep their eyes clean and healthy. But this is the first study that linked dogs’ tears to emotion. 

See also: How to boost happy chemicals in your brain starting now naturally.

Takefumi Kikusui, a professor at the lab, first noticed that one of his two standard poodles was tearing up while nursing her pups, six years ago. Interestingly, Kikusui discovered the doggie tears were linked with positive emotions. 

The research, published in the journal Current Biology, also suggests the hormone oxytocin might be at the root of the response. In humans, the same hormone is sometimes called the “love” or “cuddle hormone” as it plays a critical role in the way people bond with each other too. 

You may also like: 15 golden retriever characteristics that make them perfect.


A happy brown dog looks up

Details of the study

For their research, Kikusui and his team measured the response in 18 dogs, comparing the tear volume before and after reunions with their owners and with people whom the animals knew but who weren’t their owners. Only the reunion with their owners led the dogs to shed about 10 per cent more tears. 

Related: Spotify for pets is the cutest thing: Here’s how to make the purrfect playlist for your cat or dog.

This response and preference towards owners might have an evolutionary purpose too. Following these findings, Kikusui surveyed 74 people, showing pictures of dogs’ faces with and without tears. He found that people responded most positively to dogs who had tears, suggesting that doggie tears may also prompt humans to be more attentive to their furrever furriends, providing better care. 

As if we needed more reason to cherish the bonds we share with this special species. 

You may also like: 8 pet toys for your pup that are eco-friendly (and fun).

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