Dogs Can Tell When People Are Smiling


Dogs can actually tell when their owners, or any person rather, are smiling, according to researchers. New studies indicate they can tell the difference between a smile and a frown, though it is unclear to researchers whether they understand the emotions that cause facial expressions in humans.

An Austrian team of researchers discovered that dogs were able to differentiate between happy and angry facial expressions in humans. The authors of the study stated this was possible because they have the ability to apply their knowledge of emotional expressions in humans to an array of images, with which they were previously unaware. Researchers said the study is the first time dogs, or any animal, have been recorded reacting differently towards separate facial expressions, though animal experts stated it is no grand revelation.

Ludwig Huber, a Vienna-based researcher in field of comparative cognition at the University of Veterinary Medicine, explained they found the bond between humans and dogs may be stronger than what was previously thought, subtle communication techniques were never assumed to be as influential in understanding emotion. He suggested the study is incomplete, authors need more information to surmise whether dogs understand us better than we understand them.

To conduct the study, Huber and his Austrian colleagues trained 12 dogs to distinguish between pictures of the same individual making either a happy face or a sad face, allowing them to view only the upper or lower portions of the face. After training the dogs with 15 different pairs of pictures, their aptitudes were tested in four ways. Afterwards, they were able to differentiate between the expressions of happy and angry using more of a technique than only chance. Though, Huber stated this does not mean dogs can fully understand the range of human emotion, further experiments are needed.

As scientific confirmation is currently pending, U.S. veterinarians explained their everyday, continuous contact with dogs shows they have the ability and aptitude of reading faces and understanding the underlying emotions. Doctor Nicholas Dodman, an animal behavior professor at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Science, explained the notion with a common saying his in field. “Your dog can read you like a book,” he said. Dogs are very observant, they can read body language, eyes, and even pupil size. It is no surprise they can read and understand facial expressions, he stated.

Dr. Greg Nelson, of the Central Veterinary Associates in Stream, New York, is a seasoned surgeon and has years of diagnostic imaging experience. With his knowledge, he said that dog owners can use the results of the study to understand how their dogs react to their facial expressions and how to be more aware of subtle communication queues when interacting with them. Furthermore, he explained that dog owners should not confuse at act of punishment with a facial cue that contradicts that action and vice versa. Although the jury is still out on if dogs can fully understand what emotions humans are feeling, this study proves if dogs can recognize smiles, they may be able to identify a broader emotional spectrum.


By: Alex Lemieux


U.S. News and World Report

Live Science

Picture: joysaphine – Flickr License

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