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Study Proves People Really Can Identify Dogs’ Emotions by Their Facial Expressions

Leroy 1You know how you could swear your dog looks happy, or scared, or disgusted?

It turns out you’re not just imagining things.

According to a new study, pet parents can, in fact, accurately gauge their dogs’ emotions simply by looking at their faces.

(Hopefully this doesn’t mean Pugs are chronically depressed.)

The study, titled “Classifying Dogs’ Facial Expressions from Photographs,” was published in the February issue of the journal Behavioural Processes.

“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,” Dr. Tina Bloom, the psychologist who led the study, told The Telegraph. “We have shown that humans are also able to accurately – if not perfectly – identify at least one dog’s facial expressions.”

Leroy 2The 50 volunteers who participated in the study were divided into two groups: one that had experience with dogs, and the other, not so much. Both groups were shown photographs of Mal, a very expressive 5-year-old Belgian Shepherd police dog, and asked to identify his emotions.

(You can participate in a related but entirely unscientific study by trying to guess my dog Leroy’s emotions in the three photos accompanying this story.)

In order to get Mal to display such a wide range of feelings as he posed for pictures, the researchers used a variety of sneaky tactics. To make Mal look happy, they praised the pooch. To make him appear sad, they scolded him. For a surprised expression, they brought out a jack-in-the-box toy; for fear, nail clippers; and for disgust, yucky dog medicine. To make the police dog look angry, a researcher pretended to be a criminal.

Leroy 3The majority of the study participants could easily identify Mal’s expressions of happiness and anger. However, only 20 percent of them could identify Mal’s surprised expression, and a measly 13 percent identified his look of disgust. Interestingly, most of the participants who correctly identified those two emotions were in the group with less dog experience. Apparently reading a dog’s emotions is something that comes naturally rather than being a trained skill, according to Bloom and the researchers.

Bloom, a professor at Walden University in Minneapolis, Minn., and dog mom to two Dachshunds and two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, told The Telegraph she hoped additional research might show if this emotion-reading ability is something humans share with all mammals, or if it’s due to people and dogs evolving together for the past 100,000 years.

Answers to Leroy’s emotions:

Top photo: Leroy is sad. Off camera, his pawl Ella just nabbed his favorite chew toy. Or maybe he’s mad. I’m not sure.

Middle photo: Leroy is happy. I asked him if he wanted a cookie. (And yes, of course, I gave him one.)

Bottom photo: Leroy is fearful. Ella took off to bury his beloved chew toy at an undisclosed location in the backyard, and Leroy may never find it again. Or maybe he’s sad.

PHOTOS: Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman is senior social media writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. She does love dogs. And elephants and turtles. Along with writing about the loves of her life, Laura likes to play with her two pound pups and tell anyone who'll listen just how awesome Pit Bulls are.

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March 20, 2013 By : Category : Behavior DOG NEWS Tags:
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11 Comments Print

The Dog Park   


My Smoosh most definitely has a happy face. I see it every time we go to the park. He is the happiest pup in the world when he's frolicking around off leash. :)




Jules of Canines & Couture



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