People ‘can read dog facial expressions’, but they have to learn how to do it

Close up portrait of dachshund
But what is it thinking? (Getty)

Dog owners often feel they have a special emotional bond with their furry friends, but can you really understand what a dog is thinking by looking at its face?

The answer is yes, but you have to learn it, a new study has shown.

Dogs were first domesticated 40,000 years ago, and dogs have evolved the ability to understand human words and gestures over the millennia.

But how well can we understand them?


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The researchers found that the ability to recognise dog emotions was acquired through age and experience.

Researchers recruited 89 adult participants and 77 child participants, and presented them with photos of dogs, chimps, and humans, and asked to rate how much the individual in the picture displayed happiness, sadness, anger, or fear.

Older people were better at recognising dog emotions accurately.

People who grew up in cultures where there are dogs around were more likely to be able to ‘read’ their expressions.

“These results are noteworthy,” says researcher Federica Amici,Amici, “because they suggest that it is not necessarily direct experience with dogs that affects humans’ ability to recognize their emotions, but rather the cultural milieu in which humans develop.”

‘Reading’ the emotions of cats is much, much harder, a study showed this week.

A small number of cat owners - dubbed ‘cat whisperers’ - are good at ‘reading’ their cats, but most of us are little better than 50-50 at guessing what our cats are thinking.

More than 6,000 volunteers watched cat videos and tried to guess the animals’ emotions.

The researchers classified the videos according to positive and negative scenarios, such as receiving a treat, and fleeing, then assessed whether the volunteers chose the ‘right’ emotion.

Most of the volunteers scored 60% correct, but a small number (13%) scored 75% or above - with professionals including vets among the highest scorers, according to Science Alert.

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