Dogs really can read your emotions, new study shows

15 Jan 2016

Continually referred to as [hu]man’s best friend, dogs have usually been considered eternally happy creatures when treated right that, even when you’re down in the dumps, run around chasing their tails with excitement.

That doesn’t mean that dogs are completely self-centred, emotionless creatures, however, with a common understanding that dogs can, at least, read facial expressions and gestures from their owners as well as responding to the sounds of their name.

But now, according to a new study published in Biology Letters via The Conversation, a team of researchers conscripted a number of dogs to take part in a study to see whether they could identify another species’ emotions, in what would be a scientific first.

To carry out the study, the team from the University of Lincoln presented a series of images of humans and dogs to the subjects and paired them with a particular emotional sound like a laugh or cry that may or may not have been the emotional sounds of the person or other dog.

All for their own benefit?

When the emotional sounds were played, the researchers analysed if the dog spent the most amount of time looking at the pictures that matched the emotional sound and, as it turns out, the vast majority of them were able to piece the puzzle together.

The researchers stress that the dogs had no prior training to familiarise themselves with the aural-visual experiment and said the study shows considerably strong evidence that dogs are probably better emotional readers than some humans we might know.

Anecdotally, many dog owners can point to examples where their dog has definitely responded in some particular fashion to their own emotional state, but the suggestion is that they’re doing it for their own benefit, usually in the form of getting food or treats.

Scientific studies have even been undertaken to show that the face of complete guilt that a dog will show after it’s ripped up your favourite pillows is exactly the same expression a child wears when they know they have done something wrong and put on a ‘guilty face’.

Dog staring into your soul image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic