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You Can Identify Your Dog's Emotion Through Its Facial Expressions

Sep 16

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16/09/2014 2:18 PM  RssIcon

Scientists prove you really can tell what your dog is feeling by looking at its face. A study has shown that people are able to precisely identify a range of emotions in dogs from changes in their facial expressions.

The research showed that volunteers could correctly spot when a dog was happy, sad, angry, surprised or scared, when shown only a picture of the animal’s face, suggesting that humans are naturally attuned to detecting how animals are feeling.

A psychologist who led the research, said: “There is no doubt that humans have the ability to recognise 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.”


The study used photographs of a police dog, as it experienced different emotions. To trigger a happy reaction, researchers praised her. The result was the dog looking straight at the camera with ears up and tongue out.
They then reprimanded the dog to produce a “sad” reaction, causing the animal to pull a mournful expression with eyes cast down.
Surprise, generated using a jack-in-the box, caused the dog to wrinkle the top of its head into something akin to a frown. Medicine that the dog did not like was produced to stimulate disgust – flattened ears.
For anger, a researcher pretended to be a criminal. The dogs teeth were bared in the beginnings of a snarl.


The resulting photographs were shown to 50 volunteers, who were split into two groups according to their experience of dogs. By far the easiest emotion they recognised was happiness, with 88 per cent of the volunteers correctly identifying it. Anger was identified by 70 per cent of participants. About 45 per cent of volunteers spotted when Mal was frightened, while 37 per cent could identify the relatively subtle emotion of sadness.

The canine expressions that were hardest for humans to identify were surprise and disgust, with only 20 per cent of the volunteers recognising surprise and just 13 per cent recognising disgust. The study found that people with minimal experience of dogs were better at identifying canine disgust and anger, perhaps because dog owners convinced themselves that their dog was not aggressive and so the associated facial expression was just playing.

The researchers believe the ability of inexperienced volunteers to sometimes be better judges of emotions may be because reading dogs’ faces comes naturally, rather than being a learned skill.

So next time you are watching your dog, see if you can identify their facial expressions and what their emotion may be. 

 

 

Aggressive

dog

Ears Forward or back, close to head.
Eyes Narrow or staring challengingly.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Lips open, drawn back to expose teeth bared in a snarl. Possible jaw snapping.
Body Tense. Upright. Hackles on neck up. Completely Dominant position.
Tail Straight out from body. Fluffed up.
Vocali- 
zation
Snarl. Growl. Loud bark

 

Alert

dog

Ears Perked-up. Turning to catch sounds.
Eyes Open normally or wide.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Mouth closed or slightly open with teeth covered.
Body Normal. Possibly standing on tiptoe. Slightly Dominant position.
Tail Up. Possibly wagging.
Vocali- 
zation
None. Low whine or alarm bark.

Anxious

dog

Ears Partially back.
Eyes Slightly narrowed.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Mouth closed, or slightly open in a "grin."
Body Tense. Slightly lowered in a Submissive position.
Tail Partially lowered.
Vocali- 
zation
Low whine or moaning-type bark.

Chase, Beginning Stage

dog

Ears Perked-up, forward-pointing.
Eyes Wide open. Very alert.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Mouth slightly open. Excited panting.
Body Tense. Crouched low in a predatory position. Legs bent, poised to run.
Tail Extended straight out from body.
Vocali- 
zation
None.
 

Curious, Eager, Excited

dog

Ears Perked-up, forward-pointing.
Eyes Wide open.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Mouth open, teeth covered. Possible panting.
Body Normal stance. Possible wiggling, standing on tiptoe, or pacing.
Tail Up. Wagging.
Vocali- 
zation
Excited short barking, whining.

 

Dominant

dog

Ears Up straight or forward.
Eyes Wide open, staring.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Mouth closed or slightly open.
Body Very tall posture. Hackles may be up.
Tail Stiffened and fluffed. Up or straight out from body.
Vocali- 
zation
Low, assertive growl or grunt.

Fearful

dog

Ears Laid back flat and low on head.
Eyes Narrowed, averted. Possibly rolled back in head, whites showing.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Lips drawn back to expose teeth.
Body Tense. Crouched low in submissive position. Shivering, trembling. Possible secretion from anal scent glands.
Tail Down between legs.
Vocali- 
zation
Low, worried yelp, whine, or growl.

Flight, Beginning Stage

dog

Ears Back.
Eyes Wide open. Possibly rolled back with whites showing.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Slightly opened mouth. Possible drooling.
Body Tense. Shivering. Low, poised to run.
Tail Low or between legs.
Vocali- 
zation
None. Possible yelp or whine.

Friendly

dog

Ears Perked-up.
Eyes Wide open. Alert look.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Relaxed, possibly slightly open, "smiling" mouth.
Body Normal posture. Still, or possible wiggling of whole rear end.
Tail Up or out from body. Wagging.
Vocali- 
zation
Whimpering, yapping, or short, high bark.

Guarding

dog

Ears Perked-up. Forward.
Eyes Wide open, alert.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Mouth slightly open, teeth bared. Snapping or gnashing of teeth.
Body Tense. Rigid. Hackles up. Standing very tall in an aggressive or dominant stance.
Tail Rigid. Held straight out from body. Sometimes fluffed.
Vocali- 
zation
Loud alert bark. Growl. Snarl.

Playful/ Happy

dog

Ears Perked-up and forward, or relaxed.
Eyes Wide open. Sparkly/merry-looking.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Mouth relaxed and slightly open, teeth covered. Excited panting.
Body Relaxed, or front end lowered, rear end up in the air, wiggling in a play-bow. Excited bouncing and jumping up and down. Circling around and running forward and back in an invitation to play.
Tail Wagging vigorously.
Vocali- 
zation
Excited barking. Soft play-growling.

Predatory

dog

Ears Alert. Held forward or backward to catch sounds.
Eyes Wide open. Staring, focusing.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Mouth closed.
Body Rigid. Low to ground, ready to spring forward. Quietly sniffing the air.
Tail Straight and low.
Vocali- 
zation
None (so the prey won't be alerted).

Subordinate (Submissive)

dog

Ears Down, flattened against head.
Eyes Narrowed to slits or wide open, whites showing.
Mouth/ 
Teeth
Lips pulled way back from teeth in a "grin". Nuzzling or licking other animal or person on face.
Body Lowered to ground, front paw raised. Lying on back, belly up. Possible urine leaking/dribbling. Possible emptying of anal scent glands.
Tail Down, between legs.
Vocali- 
zation
None, or low, worried whining. Possible yelping/whimpering in fear.
 

 

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