A man’s best friend: Study shows dogs can recognize human emotions
January 12, 2016
University of Lincoln
Dogs can recognize emotions in humans by combining information from different senses -- an ability that has never previously been observed outside of humans, a new study published today reveals.
For the first time, researchers have shown that dogs must form abstract mental representations of positive and negative emotional states, and are not simply displaying learned behaviours when responding to the expressions of people and other dogs.
The findings from a team of animal behaviour experts and psychologists the University of Lincoln, UK, and University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
The researchers presented 17 domestic dogs with pairings of images and sounds conveying different combinations of positive (happy or playful) and negative (angry or aggressive) emotional expressions in humans and dogs. These distinct sources of sensory input – photos of facial expressions and audio clips of vocalisations (voices or barks) from unfamiliar subjects – were played simultaneously to the animals, without any prior training.
The team found the dogs spent significantly longer looking at the facial expressions which matched the emotional state (or valence) of the vocalisation, for both human and canine subjects.
The integration of different types of sensory information in this way indicates that dogs have mental representations of positive and negative emotional states of others.
Researcher Dr Kun Guo, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology, said: “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.
“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 categorisation 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.”
Co-author Professor Daniel Mills, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognise human emotions. Many dog owners report anecdotally that their pets seem highly sensitive to the moods of human family members.
“However, 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. Our findings are the first to show that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and other dogs.
“Importantly, the dogs in our trials received no prior training or period of familiarisation with the subjects in the images or audio. This suggests that dogs' ability to combine emotional cues may be intrinsic. As a highly social species, such a tool would have been advantageous and the detection of emotion in humans may even have been selected for over generations of domestication by us.”
Just a reminder we will be closing January 12 -15 for a little face lift:)
Dog food recall
On Monday, January 4, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the recall of a dog food which may potentially be contaminated with Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes. According to the FDA release, Big Dog Natural, out of Brick, New Jersey, is voluntarily recalling a specific production of their Big Dog Natural raw dehydrated dog food.
Big Dog Natural "Chicken Supreme" may be contaminated with Salmonella. The company is also recalling their "Fish Supreme" food which might be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Impacted food shipped during the week of 10/31/15 to 11/13/15 to online customers.
Pets eating the effected products could be at risk, as could the humans who handle contaminated pet products - thorough hand washing after handling the products is advised to avoid the risk of contamination.
According to the release, pets impacted by Salmonella and/or Listeria monocytogenes may show certain symptoms, including lethargy, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, fever and diarrhea or bloody diarrhea. Individuals concerned that their pet may be exhibiting any or all of these symptoms are encouraged to contact their veterinarians.
Big Dog Natural became aware of a potential issue after receiving notification from the FDA that an investigational sample of Chicken Supreme tested positive for Salmonella and an investigational sample of Fish Supreme for Listeria monocytogenes.
Consumers should discontinue feeding the affected product and monitor their pet's health, and contact their veterinarian if they have concerns. Consumers who purchased the product can obtain a full refund or exchange by returning the product in its original packaging.
Consumers with questions should contact Big Dog Natural by calling 1-732-785-2600