Pet industry professionals and pet parents have commonly asked whether dogs can read or understand human emotion. It’s incredibly convincing when your dog drops his ears when you’re angry or comes to see you when you’re sad. Your dog also appears to know when you’re playful or happy. Why is that? Are dogs empathetic, can they read human emotion, or are we way off on both accounts?
Dogs Can Read Facial Expressions
In a big step for the pet Industry and understanding dogs, Current Biology posted a study where they presented dogs with photos of parts of human faces. They did not present voices with the images. “We think the dogs in our study could have solved the task only by applying their knowledge of emotional expression in humans to the unfamiliar pictures we presented,” said Corsin Müller from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.
In another study, individuals presented dogs with two photos of the same person’s entire face. One was angry, one was happy. The scientists covered either the mouth or the eyes one at a time and the dog responded, recognizing the anger or the happiness at a much higher rate than what could be accomplished with random guessing.
The Extent Is Not Known at this Time
While studies have been done in the pet industry to further understand dogs’ understanding of human behavior, they have not become advanced yet. The university doing the studies is only recently moving forward with further testing where they will show dogs more pictures, but a larger variety of emotions. As far as this institute is concerned, they have not moved on to testing tonal expressions or a human emotion and dog’s empathy.
Final Comments from Müller
“We expect to gain important insights into the extraordinary bond between humans and one of their favorite pets, and into the emotional lives of animals in general.”
While the pet industry has involved itself greatly in the studies of animal understanding and behavior, we still don’t know everything there is to know about what dogs feel, think, or why the human-dog connection is such a strong one. Even without lab testing, the bond between humans and dogs is obvious. There’s a clear, innate, and intimate connection between humans and dogs which is obvious from the companionship that comes to us naturally.
Further studies are being done in the pet industry to better understand dogs. The University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and its partners are working hard to better understand dogs, animal emotion, and the bond that we all share.