The Science of Dogs Reading Emotions
Dogs have a great ability to pick up on the tone of voice of their humans. In one experiment, dogs were trained to pick up on the different tones of voices that imply different emotions. Just as in humans, a part of dogs temporal lobes lit up when they recognized different types of voices.
They are better at recognizing happier voices than they are at recognizing other tones of voices. Dogs are better at reading the tones of other dogs, and can depict the emotions of the dogs around them, which helps them decide how to behave in social interactions.
Signs that Dogs Can Tell When We Are Happy
Dogs have an amazing ability to respond to our needs immediately and according to the situation at hand. Depending on their breed and personality type, dogs act upon each situation in their own way.
Dogs can tell what mood we are in, and they use their amazing senses to detect our many emotions. They can tell when we are happy or sad using their sense of smell and their keen ability to read facial expressions and body language.
Youll be able to tell when your dog knows your sad based on the way their demeanor changes compared to when you are happy. For example, when your dog notices that you are sad, his attitude will adjust to your needs. Your dog will walk up to you calmly, with their tail lowered. Some dogs will lean into their owners for comfort while others just sit nearby.
When dogs can tell we are happy, their behavior reflects the environment. Youll notice your dog wagging their tail, gazing at you, and mimicking your behavior. If you are speaking excitedly, with excited body language, your dog will respond similarly, by jumping up or barking in excitement. Dogs are even better at recognizing when we are happy than recognizing when we are sad!
Here are some signs you might notice when your dog is reading your emotions:
These are other signs you might notice when your dog can tell that you are happy:
Dogs are incredibly intuitive. As a result, they are experts at reading our emotions. The furry, four-legged friends we know and love today were not always this cuddly. In fact, dogs evolved from wolves!
Over 15,000 years ago, man and wolf roamed the wild independently of each other. They realized that they could help each other survive in the unpredictable conditions they lived in. Dogs provided assistance with hunting, while humans fed the wolves their leftovers and provided shelter.
Some wolves got along with humans better than others. These wolves grew closer to the human community and continued to breed. As the generations went by, wolves became better at predicting what their humans needed. The dogs that were better at responding to humans were preferred. So, those dogs continued to breed and they only continued to get more and more intuitive as the years went on.
The dogs we know and love today come in all shapes, sizes, and personality types. However, we can always count on them to be there for us. Whether we are going through a difficult time, feeling angry for just a moment, or very, very happy, dogs can read exactly what we need and then respond to those needs.
The final part of the study was a challenge called “impossible task,” which measures the strength of a dogs bond with its owner. In this task, the dogs were shown into a room where their owner and a stranger stood on opposite sides of a testing apparatus. Both the owners and the strangers stood still and stared diagonally across the room; they didnt make eye contact with the dog. The dogs were taught to move a jar on the apparatus in order to retrieve food underneath it. After a couple of trials, the jar was then screwed onto its lid, so that the dogs couldnt retrieve the food.
In addition, by comparing the behaviors of the dogs as they saw and heard their owners cry with how they normally behaved, the researchers found that dogs who pushed through the door showed less stress than those who didnt enter the door. The researchers quantified this via the rate of “stressful behaviors” the dogs exhibited per second.
In the study, the researchers brought 34 pet dogs of various breeds and sizes into the lab, along with their owners. The owners were asked to sit (good human!) behind a glass door, where the dogs could see and hear them, and to say, “Help,” every 15 seconds, in either a monotone or a distressed voice. [In Photos: Americas Favorite Pets]
And why did dogs with stronger bonds more often open the door when their owners were crying and less often when they were humming? That result may be “reflective of empathy,” the authors wrote.
In the trials in which the pet owners were acting out a nondistressed state, they were told to hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in between their calls for help. Meanwhile, in the trials where they acted distressed, they were told to make crying sounds in between their calls. The researchers took a video of how the dogs behaved in both scenarios and measured the dogs heart rates for variability between beats, which could indicate stress.
Does your dog know when you’re happy?
Science is proving what pet owners have long believed: Dogs understand what were feeling. Specifically, dogs can recognize the difference between a happy and an angry human face, a study published Thursday in Current Biology suggests.
Its the first research to show definitively that dogs are sensitive to our facial expressions, says coauthor Ludwig Huber, head of comparative cognition at Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.
In the Austrian study, 20 pet dogs of various breeds and sizes were taught to play a computer game through a series of exercises. In the first, the dogs were shown two touch screens, one with a circle and one with a square. Through trial and error, they learned that a treat would appear if they chose the right geometrical figure.
Eleven of the 20 dogs were able to catch on to rules of the game and make it to the next phase, where they were shown photos of faces. Half the dogs were rewarded for picking a happy expression and half for choosing an angry expression. The interesting catch: the dogs were shown only the upper half or the lower half of a face.
It was easier to teach the dogs to choose a happy expression than an angry one, suggesting the dogs do indeed understand the meaning behind the expression, Huber says.
In the vast majority of cases the dogs chose the right answer 70 to 100 percent of the time.
Dogs who had been trained to recognize an expression of anger or happiness on the upper part of a face could identify the same expression when shown only the lower part, and vice versa, Huber says, adding “the only possible explanation is that they recall from memory of everyday life how a whole human face looks when happy or angry.”
Delilah, a 3-year-old Chihuahua, always seems to know when her owner Eva Shure is having a bad day.
Making eye contact and cocking her head to the right, the little dog will stare at Shures face as if trying to assess her feelings. “It’s weird, I can see her thinking and processing,” says Shure, a 35-year-old New York City business owner. “I’ll say, yeah, it’s not a great day and she’ll come up and sit next to me.”
Beverly Levreault, 57, says her 6-year-old Australian Cattle Dog mix is always tuned in to her moods. “If I’m not feeling well, like when I have the flu, Lacey is definitely lower key and will not leave my side, ” says Levreault, a graphic designer from Williamstown, New York. “If I take her for a walk, she’s not as rambunctious as she usually is.”
Lynette Whiteman says she’s not sure that her 5-year-old Yorkie-Maltese cross is using facial expressions to gauge how she feels. “But she definitely reads my emotions,” says the 58-year-old from Toms River, New Jersey. “I run a therapy dog program and the dogs are just amazing. They go into a room and immediately pick out the person who needs help.”
Behavioral experts say the new findings, while important, wouldn’t surprise anyone with an intimate knowledge of dogs.
“This new work continues to build the case for just how sensitive dogs are to our subtle behaviors,” says Dr. Brian Hare, chief scientific officer at Dognition and an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “This is the strongest evidence yet that dogs are even reading our facial expressions.”
That sensitivity may be the result of generations of selective breeding for a true partner, says Dr. Carlo Siracusa, director of the behavior service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. “We have selected animals that are able to perceive our emotions and communicate with us at a level that no other animal can,” Siracusa says.
Dogs may not talk, but they are very good communicators, says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a professor in the department of clinical sciences at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and director of the animal behavior clinic at Cummings.
“Just as we are masters of the spoken word, dogs are experts at reading body language,” Dodman says.
They can be bitten by the computer gaming bug. “They can really become freaks for it,” Huber says with a chuckle. “They don’t want to stop playing. It’s incredible. They’ll play till they are exhausted and fall asleep.”