Most dog owners sincerely believe that they can tell what their dog is feeling just by looking at the expression on their face, but this has never been scientifically proven…until now.
In February 2013, a study was published by researchers at Walden University, showing that humans can indeed tell what a dog is feeling by accurately reading the dog’s facial expressions.
Surprisingly, non-dog owners could more accurately interpret certain canine facial expressions, such as aggression, better than those with several years’ experience with dogs. To read some potential reasons why this might be so, click here.
The study used a 5-year-old male police dog named Mal to create a series of photographs that depicted Mal responding to various behaviourally controlled conditions. For example, to elicit a “happy” response, Mal’s handler held Mal’s favourite toy in front of him and promised that they were going to go play soon. The result: what definitely appeared to be a “happy expression” — ears up, eyes open, looking directly ahead, and tongue out. In total, six basic emotions were elicited from Mal, including happy, sad, surprise, disgust, anger, and fear.
To view photos of Mal, click here.
From there, the photos were viewed by two groups of people — those with a lot of experience with dogs (though these were not experts) and those with very little experience with dogs. Both groups could very accurately determine the dog’s emotions in each set of photos and were able to guess at the kinds of situations that were eliciting Mal’s facial responses.
Perhaps humans and dogs (and animals in general) are more connected than some people think!
For the full research article, click here.