When we talk about dogs crying we don't mean in the same way that humans do. Although they have the same tear ducts as us, the tears a dog makes are only used to moisten her eyes.
Only primates and hominids (humans and gorillas) produce flowing tears, and only humans produce tears due to sadness. That is not to say that dogs don't feel sad at times, but like other animals, their emotional state is exhibited in other ways, mostly by vocalisation (e.g. whining, howling).
Animals cry for lots of different reasons and sometimes it is just a case of attracting the attention of another animal, or in the case of a dog, the attention of its owner.
Why is my dog crying?
A dog's cry is considered a form of communication. The dog may be asking for more food, telling us she's scared, or trying to attract our attention for some cuddles.
On the other hand, crying can also be an automatic response to inner conflict or discomfort: a dog will just as easily cry when she is overwhelmed, frustrated or in pain.
The most common reasons for a puppy's crying are often that she wants food, water, or a toilet call. Dogs learn to communicate what they want from their mother when they are small puppies by crying and they carry this on into adulthood. It is a behaviour that can be attended to but cannot necessarily be treated.
Indeed, it would be dangerous to try to eradicate the dog's need to communicate.
Here are some of the reasons why a dog is crying:
Physical state: your dog may be in pain, hungry or thirsty
Mental state: your dog is communicating appeasement or her excitement about seeing you
Emotional state: your dog may be fearful of something, anxious, bored or frustrated
Let's look at these reasons in more detail and work out what we can do to help a crying dog.
If a dog is bored she cries to ask for your attention. If you are not exercising or mentally stimulating your dog enough, she will quickly become bored. However, most dogs also have an insatiable desire to play and to run, so you may find that her demand (especially if she belongs to certain active breeds) will be high and constant.
Although it is important to sufficiently exercise and interact with your dog, you must do so on your terms. If you ‘give in’ to a dog that is crying because she is bored you will begin a cycle of needy behaviour and will most likely feel obliged to give her a walk or play with her when it is not convenient for you to do so.
If you are sure that she is only seeking attention when she cries, you may try ignoring her calls and carry on with your own tasks. Do not interact with her in any way when she is calling for attention. You should, however, make sure you attend to your dog's needs in the future (e.g. more exercise, more mental stimulation, etc.), and of course, encourage your dog to relax. You should be resilient and consistent in what you are prepared to do.
Dogs will also ‘cry’ because they are happy. If your dog senses that she has not seen you for some time (this can be any amount of human time) she will cry at your arrival because she is pleased to see you. This behaviour is one of the reasons dogs and humans have lived in harmony for many tens of thousands of years. We enjoy being wanted and adored as a species and our dogs clearly give us that adoration.
In some cases, the cry of the greeting may be a little overwhelming, and in order to calm our dog we need to take measures: teach your dog to calm down by ignoring her until she has settled and then greeting her.
This might be too much for some dogs. In this case, you can ask her to sit and lie down and then greet her calmly, only once she has complied. Avoid punishing her for this behaviour for the reasons outlined above. If you don’t like that about a dog, why have a dog?!
Sometimes dogs vocalise because of the discomfort of a physical ailment (such as osteoarthritis or a metabolic disease). If an adult or older dog suddenly begins to be more whiny than usual, you should take him to the vet and have him checked for medical conditions.
A dog that has dementia is also prone to cry. Canine dementia can cause an older dog to be forgetful and confused and combined with, for instance, poor eyesight or deafness, the dog can become agitated and frustrated; these problems illicit a vocalisation. There is little you can do about her dementia but you can treat an aged dog for some conditions. Alleviating the painful symptoms of arthritis, for instance, will make her less likely to cry.
Vocalisation is essential to a dog’s communication. Wolves are exceptionally vocal when they are together in a pack, especially when they hunt, and this need to ‘talk’ to others in the pack has not gone away.
You must be vigilant of your dog’s behaviour to try to work out what it is she is crying about. She may be telling you she wants to go outside to the toilet or that she is hungry or thirsty, cold or hot. When you know your dog well, interpreting her needy sounds becomes easier and you can attend to her more quickly. You should also pay attention to her body language to try to work out what it is she needs.
In order to stop your dog crying you will need to be vigilant of her behaviour and take the time to notice any other problems that come with the crying. She may be limping and crying which would indicate joint pain; she may pace up and down and cry which would indicate either her need to go outside or that she perceives a threat from the outside.
Learning all about your dog makes interpreting the causes of the crying easier and will allow you to more easily deal with the problem.