We humans really like to feel special, possessing qualities that separate us from other species. The ability to create language or to start a fire, morality and conscious awareness, the concept of time – these things we hold out as evidence of our uniqueness… our superiority, perhaps. Well, grab a hold of something sturdy because findings from a recent study are about to rock your world. We humans may not be all of that and a bag of chips. Careful, your dog understands your moods!
Really, Dogs Understand What’s Going On?
When Mattie spent a week in a critical care facility we had the strangest experience and slowly, we began to realize that he knew a great deal more about us than we thought. Not only did he somehow know when we were coming to visit him, but he also intently watched our faces when we spoke with his internist on five different occasions. The veterinarian made notice, “In my experience there are some animals who have an incredible bond with their human….Mattie is one of those cases.” I remember at the time feeling special…my little guy and I, we’re like that (visualize me sitting at my desk crossing my pointer and index fingers real tight).
While there’s no denying that Mattie and I have a special bond, there’s emerging research that confirms that dogs can recognize emotions in humans….an ability previously thought to be solely attributed to humans. This fascinating study was conducted by a team of animal behavior experts and psychologists from the University of Lincoln, UK, and the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In laymen terms, 17 dogs were simultaneously shown images and audio clips of humans and dogs. These images and videos were presented in a variety of consistent and inconsistent ways – happy (smiling or perky ears) images with angry sounds (barking and yelling), sad images (despondent) with happy sounds (giggling). The dogs were unfamiliar with both the humans and the dogs they saw/listened to. Time after time, the dogs spent much more time on the images and sounds that were in synch (happy image with joyful sounds, sad images with whining sounds etc.).
Rest Assured, Your Dog Understands Your Moods
Prior to this study, common thinking was that dogs could tell the difference in human emotions based on cues – mostly human intervention. This research is the first of it’s kind to find that dogs have the ability of 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 recognizing 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 recognize emotions in humans and other dogs.”
“Importantly, the dogs in our trials received no prior training or period of familiarization 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.”
Human-Animal Bond Is Growing
The human-animal bond is a magical thing, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how truly similar we are to our beloved pets. This study fascinates me. I believe with all my heart and soul that animals are sentient beings, capable of matter, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness. This study from the University of Lincoln moves us one step closer to scientifically affirming that what we as animal lovers know to be true – that animals are so very much more than things or possessions. So, the next time you are thinking that you’d rather sit on your sofa than walk your dog….watch out, because Fido may just know what your thinking…if you wear your emotions on your sleeve!
To read the full study click here: http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/1/20150883
, the Pet Lifstyle Guru
With lub, MattieDog, a little dog making a big impact in this world!®