Do Dogs Understand Smiles?

Does your dog tend to understand your emotions? If so, they are not the only ones! Recent studies from the Clever Dog Lab in Vienna shows that dogs do in fact know how we’re feeling by reading our facial expressions.

Researchers tested dogs in the study using a touchscreen. The scientists trained the dogs to touch either a happy face or an angry face with their nose for a treat. The dogs were presented with either the top half or the bottom half of the faces to ensure they weren’t just responding to a smile or the baring of teeth. The research team agreed that if the dogs were truly able to spot an emotion, they should be able to do so regardless of which part of the face they looked at.

Once the dogs were trained, they ran through choice trials, in which the canines had to pick between strange faces with either happy or angry expressions. The researchers presented the pooches with either the top, bottom, or left half of a face. The scientists chose the left half because previous studies found that dogs prefer to look at the left side of a face.

The pets trained to pick out happy expressions could do so when presented with different halves of a face, as well as when presented with faces they had never seen before. The dogs trained to respond to angry faces were also able to pick out angry expressions, however, it took them longer to learn their task than the dogs trained on happy faces.

It is still unclear whether a dog’s ability to read a human face is a result of 15,000 years of companionship or a result of learning through experience. All of the dogs used in the study were household pets with owners who doubtlessly used facial expressions on a regular basis. Still, the findings indicate that dogs use their visual sense much more skillfully than experts thought.

Who knows what else we will discover that our four-legged friends are capable of doing. That’s one of the joys of being a pet parent, our furry companions continue to amaze us every day!


Source: National Geographic & Dogster