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 dog’s 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.
|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.|
|Vocalization||Snarl. Growl. Loud bark|
|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.|
|Vocalization||None. Low whine or alarm bark.|
|Mouth/Teeth||Mouth closed, or slightly open in a “grin.”|
|Body||Tense. Slightly lowered in a Submissive position.|
|Vocalization||Low whine or moaning-type bark.|
Chase, Beginning Stage
|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.|
Curious, Eager, Excited
|Mouth/Teeth||Mouth open, teeth covered. Possible panting.|
|Body||Normal stance. Possible wiggling, standing on tiptoe, or pacing.|
|Vocalization||Excited short barking, whining.|
|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.|
|Vocalization||Low, assertive growl or grunt.|
|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.|
|Vocalization||Low, worried yelp, whine, or growl.|
Flight, Beginning Stage
|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.|
|Vocalization||None. Possible yelp or whine.|
|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.|
|Vocalization||Whimpering, yapping, or short, high bark.|
|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.|
|Vocalization||Loud alert bark. Growl. Snarl.|
|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.|
|Vocalization||Excited barking. Soft play-growling.|
|Ears||Alert. Held forward or backward to catch sounds.|
|Eyes||Wide open. Staring, focusing.|
|Body||Rigid. Low to ground, ready to spring forward. Quietly sniffing the air.|
|Tail||Straight and low.|
|Vocalization||None (so the prey won’t be alerted).|
|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.|
|Vocalization||None, or low, worried whining. Possible yelping/whimpering in fear.|