Pet owners have long believed that their dogs can understand how they’re feeling, and now science has proved it. A recently study specifically tested whether or not dogs could recognize the difference between an angry human face and a happy one.
The study, published in Current Biology, is the first of its kind. It conclusively shows that dogs are sensitive to the facial expressions of humans. It was performed at Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria. Now research proves that dogs are beneficial to humans in more ways than one.
20 dogs of varying breeds and sizes were used in the study. Each dog was taught to play a computer game using a touch screen. First, they were shown two shapes, a circle and square, on the screen. If they touched the correct shape they earned a treat.
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Eleven of the dogs were able to understand the training, and they moved on to the next phase of the study. During the second phase each dog was shown pictures of human faces. Half of the dogs earned a reward for choosing the happy face, and the other half was rewarded for choosing the angry face. However, there was a catch. The dogs were only shown the upper or lower half of the face, but never the entire face.
As a final test, the dogs were shown the same half of the face but it was a different person’s face, the other half of the same faces that they saw during training, the opposite half of different faces, and only the left side of the same face. The majority of dogs were able to identify the correct face 70-100% of the time.
Simply put, if they were trained to recognize one of the expressions on the lower part of the face, they could also recognize it on the upper part of the face, and vice versa. Ludwig Huber, coauthor of the study, concluded that the only way to explain this is that the dogs must recognize the expressions from their everyday lives.
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Most experts say that although it is great that these findings have been scientifically proven, they won’t surprise dog lovers. This is the strongest evidence to date that dogs are sensitive to the subtleties of human emotions.
Researchers believe that these findings could be the result of years of selective breeding. For a long time humans have been breeding dogs that are able to form stronger bonds with us and communicate with us in a way that no other animal does.
It turns out that reading our emotions isn’t the only thing that dogs have in common with us either. The experts that helped perform the study said that many of the dogs really took a liking to the computer game they were playing. Most of them didn’t want to stop playing and would play until they were too exhausted to play any longer. Maybe dogs are more like us than we think?