It’s Not Your Imagination: Your Dog Totally Knows How You’re Feeling
You may have noticed that your dog can be particularly snuggly when you’re feeling blue, or have an extra pep in its step when you’re happy. It may seem as if your pet can read your emotions — and according to new research, it probably can.
Dogs combine information they see and hear in order to gauge emotions in humans and other dogs, according to a study published this week in the journal Biology Letters. Scientists previously believed only humans had the ability to understand emotions in this complex way.
Researchers from the University of Lincoln in the U.K. and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil showed 17 dogs images of human and canine faces while playing audio of voices and barking. They presented each dog with visuals and sounds that were both positive (happy and playful), both negative (angry or aggressive), and with positive-negative sight-sound combinations. When the audio and visual were both positive or both negative — regardless of whether they were from a fellow canine or a human — researchers found that the dogs paid attention for a longer amount of time.
It may not sound that significant, but researchers were able to determine that pups “must form abstract mental representations of positive and negative emotional states” and do not merely display learned behaviors, according to a University of Lincoln press release.
“There is an important difference between associative behaviour, such as learning to respond appropriately to an angry voice, and recognising a range of very different cues that go together to indicate emotional arousal in another,” study co-author Daniel Mills, a professor at the university, said in the release. “Our findings are the first to show that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and other dogs.”