Dogs recognize human emotions, say scientists

© Ilya Naymushin
Dogs can read our feelings and recognize emotions by combining the information of different senses, a trait previously thought to be limited to primates.

Animal behavior experts and psychologists from universities in Lincoln and Sao Paolo showed how dogs use abstract mental representations of both negative and positive emotions.

Usually emotional perception takes place within a species in order for animals of the same kind to gauge each other’s intentions, yet dogs appear to be able to tell how humans are feeling.

Seventeen domestic dogs of different breeds were shown pairs of pictures of either people or dogs, with one looking happy and one looking angry.

They were then played recordings of either aggressive or playful barking or a person saying “come here” in either a cheerful or nasty tone.
Scientist say the dogs looked at the picture which matched the tone of the human voice quite consistently. They were even better at identifying dog faces according to barks.

Researchers say this shows dogs are able to surpass simply noting facial indicators and actually use emotional perception.

Previous studies have indicated that dogs can differentiate between human emotions from cues such as facial expressions, but this is not the same as emotional recognition,” Dr Kun Guo, of the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology, told the Telegraph.

Our study shows that dogs have the ability to integrate two different sources of sensory information into a coherent perception of emotion in both humans and dogs.

To do so requires a system of internal categorization of emotional states. This cognitive ability has until now only been evidenced in primates and the capacity to do this across species only seen in humans.

Study co-author Professor Daniel Mills, also from the University of Lincoln, said: “It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognize human emotions. Many dog owners report anecdotally that their pets seem highly sensitive to the moods of human family members.

Our findings are the first to show that dogs truly recognize emotions in humans and other dogs,” he added.