Do you ever feel like your dog understands you, even if you haven’t said a word? Dogs use all of their senses to pick up on our emotions, and they truly seem to care about how we are feeling. Numerous recent studies are showing evidence of what dog owners have known all along: that dogs really are paying attention, and that they understand us much more than they let on.
How Dogs Interpret Human Facial Expressions
In a 2016 study, dogs were trained to sit still in front of a screen while they were shown different photographs of humans and other dogs. The dogs’ eye movements were tracked to see which facial features they noticed first, and how they decided to react.
The dogs’ gaze typically lingered on eyes the longest, though they also seemed to use the whole face to interpret facial expression. When shown images of an angry human, they avoided eye contact and averted their gaze. Images of angry dogs actually caused the dogs to freeze up and stare. This is evidence that dogs do not just see us as larger dogs – they know we are humans, and they do understand when we are angry.
In another study, dogs were trained to distinguish between happy, neutral and angry faces. The dogs were able to identify expressions even if they were only shown the top or bottom half of the faces. So, they do not only look for a smile – they also use more subtle cues like eye shape to figure out what we are feeling. The dogs also hesitated when identifying angry faces.
It goes to show that dogs really are paying attention to our facial expressions. When you’re training a new task, remember to smile at your dog when they get it right. Also keep in mind that you should take breaks if you are getting frustrated during training, as it may show in your facial expression.
Can Dogs Smell Fear?
People who are afraid of animals tend to worry about a dog will attack them because they can sense their fear. However, this isn’t quite true.
Researchers showed volunteers videos that evoked different reactions: neutral, fearful and joyful. Then, they collected sweat samples from each group.
Dogs that were allowed to smell the sweat samples from the fearful group became fearful themselves. Their heart race increased, they became less likely to interact with strangers, and seeked out comfort from their owners.
So, it is true that dogs can smell fear. Instead of being driven to attack, however, they become anxious. When you take your dog to the veterinarian, your dog may become anxious because they are picking up your emotions through your sweat. You can lessen your dog’s anxiety by trying to stay calm and upbeat.
Do Dogs Show Empathy?
Many dogs comfort their humans while they are crying. This goes beyond licking up deliciously salty tears. Dogs also tend to actively seek out people who are upset, even if they are strangers. What’s more, dogs have also been observed reacting to the sounds of a crying human infant.
Dogs are a wonderful comfort to humans. When we pet our dogs, we tend to experience a lower heart rate, decreased stress, and a more positive outlook. Though they realize that we are not of the same species, they seem to see us as family members, and are deeply influenced by the emotions we show, both intentionally and unintentionally.