A Simple Way to Detect Your Dog’s Emotions
- A recently published study shows humans are able to correctly identify a range of emotions in dogs by looking at their facial expressions.
- Researchers evoked specific emotions in Mal, a Belgian Shepherd, which included happiness, anger, fear, sadness, surprise and disgust. They took photos of the dog as his facial expressions changed with each emotion.
- The pictures were shown to a group of 50 volunteers separated into two groups based on their experience of dogs. Happiness was recognized most frequently — by 88 percent of participants. Interestingly, the people with little or no experience of dogs were better judges of Mal’s expressions of disgust and anger than dog owners.
- Researchers theorize that the ability of people with little or no experience of dogs to identify canine facial expressions is because it is a natural skill rather than one that must be learned.
- Future research may determine if humans are as capable of empathizing with other mammals as they are with dogs.
By Dr. Becker
An intriguing study published in June in the journal Behavioural Processes1 suggests that people can accurately distinguish a range of emotions in dogs by studying their facial expressions.
Teams from the psychology department at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Walden University in Minneapolis, with an assist from the University of Florida, set out to see if humans could accurately read a dog’s facial expressions.
Study volunteers were able determine when the dog was happy, sad, angry, surprised or scared by looking at a picture of the animal’s face. These results suggest humans possess a natural ability to understand what animals are feeling.
According to Dr. Tina Bloom, a psychologist with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and lead researcher:
“There is no doubt that humans have the ability to recognize emotional states in other humans and accurately read other humans’ facial expressions. We have shown that humans are also able to accurately – if not perfectly – identify at least one dog’s facial expressions.
“Although humans often think of themselves as disconnected or even isolated from nature, our study suggests that there are patterns that connect, and one of these is in the form of emotional communication.”
How the Researchers Evoked Facial Expressions in the Dog
The study used pictures of a five year-old Belgian Shepherd named Mal. The photos showed Mal experiencing various emotions. When Mal was praised, he showed a happy expression with ears up, tongue out and looking directly at the camera.
When the researchers reprimanded him, Mal’s expression became sad, with eyes cast downward.
To capture a surprised expression, the researchers used a jack-in-the-box, and Mal wrinkled the top of his head.
Medicine with a bad taste brought out the dog’s disgusted expression – flattened ears. Next came the dreaded nail clippers, which made Mal prick up his ears and show the whites of his eyes.
To produce an expression of anger, one of the researchers acted the part of a criminal. Mal, a police dog in real life, bared his teeth into the beginnings of a snarl.
Volunteers Correctly Identified Happy Mal Most Often
The images of Mal’s expressions were shown to a group of 50 study participants who were separated into two groups based on their experience with dogs.
- Happiness was correctly identified by 88 percent of the participants.
- Anger was recognized by 70 percent.
- Fear was identified by about 45 percent of participants.
- Sadness – a relatively subtle emotion — was recognized by 37 percent of the group.
- Surprise was identified by just 20 percent of participants; disgust by only 13 percent.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the group with the least amount of exposure to dogs was better at recognizing disgust and anger. Dr. Bloom and her colleague, Prof. Harris Friedman, theorize that dog owners may convince themselves their pet is not aggressive, and rationalize negative expressions as “just playing.”
Bloom and Friedman also believe the ability of people with little or no experience of dogs to identify facial expressions – sometimes more accurately than dog owners – is perhaps because it is an innate rather than an acquired skill.
Will Future Research Show Humans Empathize with the Feelings of Other Mammals as Well?
Dr. Bloom, in speaking with The Telegraph, expressed hope that future research will investigate whether the natural empathy humans have for canines also extends to all mammals, or whether it is the result of the unique bond we’ve shared with dogs throughout history.
Bloom admits she finds such unproven theories emotionally appealing. “If I adopted a cat, or a snake or a turtle, I don’t think it would be as emotionally attached to me and watching my face as much as a dog would,” she said. “There is something different and special about a dog — I’m not sure what it is, but it’s there.”
The full study, including photos of Mal’s facial expressions, can be downloaded here.
September 4, 2013 - Posted by justonemorepet | animal behavior, Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Related Education, animals, Dogs, Dogs, Just One More Pet, Man's Best Friend, Pet Friendship and Love, Pets, responsible pet ownership | dog emotions, dogs, Dr. Becker, JOMP, Just One More Pet
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Save a Life…Adopt Just One More…Pet!
Everyday we read or hear another story about pets and other animals being abandoned in record numbers while at the same time we regularly hear about crazy new rules and laws being passed limiting the amount of pets that people may have, even down to one or two… or worse yet, none.
Nobody is promoting hoarding pets or animals, but at a time when there are more pets and animals of all types being abandoned or being taken to shelters already bursting at the seams, there is nothing crazier than legislating away the ability of willing adoptive families to take in just one more pet!!
Our goal is to raise awareness and help find homes for all pets and animals that need one by helping to match them with loving families and positive situations. Our goal is also to help fight the trend of unfavorable legislation and rules in an attempt to stop unnecessary Euthenization!!
“All over the world, major universities are researching the therapeutic value of pets in our society and the number of hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and mental institutions which are employing full-time pet therapists and animals is increasing daily.” ~ Betty White, American Actress, Animal Activist, and Author of Pet Love
So if you have the room in your home and the love in your heart… Adopt Just One More Pet or consider becoming a Foster parent for pets… Also check out: Little Critter: Just One More Pet
Photos By: Marion Algier – The UCLA Shutterbug
There is always room for Just One More Pet. So if you have room in your home and room in your heart… Adopt Just One More! If you live in an area that promotes unreasonable limitations on pets… fight the good fight and help change the rules and legislation…
Save the Life of Just One More…Animal!
Recent and Seasonal Shots
As I have been fighting Cancer… A battle I am gratefully winning, my furkids have not left my side. They have been a large part of my recovery!! Ask Marion
Photos by the UCLA Shutterbug are protected by copyright, Please email at JustOneMorePet@gmail.com or find us on twitter @JustOneMorePet for permission to duplicate for commerical purposes or to purchase photos.
If you can adopt or foster just one more pet, you could be saving a life, while adding joy to your own! Our shelters are over-flowing… Please join the fight to make them all ‘NO-Kill’ facilities.
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If You Were Stranded On An Island…A recent national survey revealed just how much Americans love their companion animals. When respondents were asked whether they’d like to spend life stranded on a deserted island with either their spouse or their pet, over 60% said they would prefer their dog or cat for companionship!
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