Animals can tune in to emotions. Often they can sense when other animals are frightened, aggressive, or otherwise upset. In the wild, this can mean that they need to be on the alert for danger.
Companion animals may have a different way of sensing vibes in the air. Since they aren’t in the wild, existing as a pack with other animals who are constantly on the lookout for threats, they pick up on our moods and body language. Sometimes it seems that they know how we feel without us (knowingly) showing any outward signs.
When I was a kid, my mom’s cat didn’t like me. That was fine, because I liked the dogs better anyway. If I sat next to her on the couch, she’d get up, turn her back to me, and lay back down. She also had her kittens under my bed – yuck. But on nights when I had trouble sleeping, she would curl up behind my knees and purr. It always made me go right to sleep. One of our cats now always knows when I’m sad. Even if I’ve gone to another room, she’ll come find me and demand that I pet her. She’s very persistent about it. My mom’s dog always curled up in my lap during thunderstorms, though I think it was more to comfort herself than me.
Some therapy dogs are trained to tune in to small signs of stress, fear, or agitation. They can help soldiers with PTSD when they have a panic attack coming on. Courthouse dogs comfort witnesses testifying who may be under extreme pressure. Rosie is such a dog: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/nyregion/dog-helps-rape-victim-15-testify.html?pagewanted=all.
Animals are being recognized more and more for their help in comforting humans when nothing else can. Is it because they think we’re members of their pack that they comfort us? Or is it out of pure love? What have your pets done to make you feel happy when you’re down?