April 9, 2013

Dog Feelings: Do You Know Your Dog?

Filed under: Dog Behavior,dogs,Feelings — Tags: , , — Dr. Amber Reed @ 7:57 pm

dog facial expressions

If you’ve ever wondered what your canine friend was thinking and feeling, you could always turn to Cher for the answer. The crooner, who always claimed that the truth wasn’t in his eyes, could have been closer to reality the first time around. Although, we’d stay away from your dog’s kiss, that probably won’t reveal too much about his mood.

Well, okay, fine – you can give your pooch a kiss anyway. Because as a study published in the Behavioural Processes journal reported, us humans are pretty darn close to our pets. So close in fact, that we can even predict how they feel.

The study, led by Dr. Tina Bloom, involved asking participants to guess the emotions of a dog based off photos that they were shown. The dog in the photos was Mal, a Belgian Shepherd police dog. Mal was captured expressing happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear and anger.

And while it might seem hard to recreate Mal’s emotions for photographs, researchers were actually very clever about it. To make Mal happy, they praised him. To make him sad, they reprimanded him. They surprised him with a jack-in-the-box, gave him medicine he didn’t like to disgust him, and showed him nail trimmers to make him feel fear. Finally, to get him to feel anger, one brave researcher dressed up and acted like a criminal.

The risk was worth it though. The photographs of Mal’s expressions were shown to 50 volunteers and what researchers discovered was incredible. According to the study results, humans can accurately determine a dog’s mood based solely off the dog’s facial expression.

This suggests, Dr. Bloom believes, that we are far closer to our furry friends in terms of emotional communication than we had originally thought. She also believes that the results showed that interpreting the emotion of dogs is an innate skill, rather than a learned one.

This belief comes from the fact that the study showed that inexperienced volunteers (those that had limited experience with dogs) could sometimes predict Mal’s expressions more accurately than experienced volunteers.

The research also showed that humans were better at identifying happiness and anger, rather than surprise and disgust. Eight-eight percent of volunteers could identify happiness and 70 percent could identify anger, but only 20 percent recognized surprise, and 13 percent placed disgust.

Meanwhile, sadness was recognized around 37 percent of the time, while fear was identified 45 percent of the time.

Future studies by Dr. Bloom and her team hope to reveal whether our natural empathy with dogs could potentially be something we share with other animals.

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About Dr. Amber Reed

has written 281 posts in this blog.

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