Science

Why the long face? Humans CAN tell their dog’s mood from its facial expression, research suggests 

Why the long face? Humans really CAN tell their dog’s mood from its facial expression, research suggests

  • In the study 105 people were shown pictures of dogs and identified their moods
  • A dobermann, a Belgian shepherd called a malinois, and a Rhodesian ridgeback were used in the pictures
  • The easiest emotion to spot in the dogs was anger which was correctly identified 78 per cent of the time 
  • The study found ‘people can naturally understand their dogs’ emotions from their facial expressions’

We know when our pooch is giving us those puppy dog eyes – but having spent thousands of years with our canine friends, it turns out we really can read their moods.

A study found slight changes, from wide eyes to a lolling tongue, can help to detect six different emotions in dogs. 

When 105 people were shown pictures of three different breeds, they correctly identified feelings of happiness, sadness, curiosity, fear, disgust and anger in the animals.

Professor Harris Friedman, from the University of Florida and Harvard University, said: ‘Our findings suggest people can naturally understand their dogs’ emotions from their facial expressions.’

A Belgian malinois was one of the breeds recruited for the Floraglades Foundation US study

Researchers recruited a dobermann, a Belgian shepherd called a malinois, and a floppy-eared Rhodesian ridgeback for their study. 

The easiest emotion to spot appears to be anger, which was correctly identified in almost 78 per cent of cases.

Dr Tina Bloom, who led the study from Floraglades Foundation in the US, said: ‘It makes sense that, having lived with dogs so long, we can understand their feelings.’

The dogs were made to feel happy by being asked if they wanted to play, while a ball was tossed in the air.

When the 105 study participants were shown pictures of the delighted dogs, they correctly identified the expression almost three-quarters of the time.

To make dogs look sad for a picture, they were reprimanded, and people identified this unhappiness in the pooches three-quarters of the time too.

But even more complicated emotions were correctly identified at a far higher rate than would be expected by chance.

Researchers got dogs to look disgusted by giving them a piece of sausage with a bitter antacid and lemon juice put into it.

The disgusted expression of the three dogs in their photographs was accurately identified by the human study group 51 per cent of the time – double the 25 per cent odds of getting it right by chance.

The Doberman and Belgian shepherd reacted with fear to seeing toenail clippers, disliking having their claws cut back, while the Rhodesian Ridgeback was frightened of a person raising a padded stick in an intimidating manner.

People could pick out a frightened dog from the pictures, from their wide-eyed expression and flattened ears, in almost 55 per cent of cases – also higher than the 25 per cent which would be expected by chance.

Almost 49 per cent of the time, people could spot a curious or surprised dog – an emotion caused in the pictures by a jack in the box jumping out in front of them.

The easiest emotion to spot in dogs appears to be anger, which was correctly identified in almost 78 per cent of cases.

The Doberman and Belgian shepherd were angered by a person raising a padded stick, while the Rhodesian Ridgeback was riled up by a noisy leaf blower.

The researchers expected people to do least well at identifying emotions in a Doberman, as these are sometimes stereotyped as aggressive dogs.

Instead, this was the second best breed for people recognising its emotions, after the Malinois, according to the research published in the journal Behavioural Processes.

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