According to a study just published in the journal Current Biology, dogs really can read your face. A team of researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria trained 11 dogs to differentiate between happy and angry human faces.
The dogs were shown either the lower or the upper half of a human face in numerous emotional states. Next, the dogs were tested. The team showed the dogs different pictures from the images utilized in their training, using either a new person’s upper or lower face or just a different half of a face the dogs had already seen.
The researchers results revealed that the dogs rewarded for selecting happy faces learned more quickly how to differentiate between angry and happy faces than dogs rewarded for choosing angry faces. That, according to the abstract, “would be predicted if the dogs recognized an angry face as an aversive stimulus.”
Study author Corsin Muller, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, told LiveScience: “We can rule out that the dogs simply discriminated (between) the pictures based on a simple salient cue, such as the visibility of teeth. Instead, our results suggest that the successful dogs realized that a smiling mouth means the same thing as smiling eyes.”
Muller added: “With our study, which was inspired by these previous attempts, we think we can now confidently conclude that at least some dogs can discriminate human facial expressions.”
The study does not explain, however, why dogs have this ability. The research team did say, however, that it is clear that “centuries of cohabitation has something to do with it.”
Co-author Ludwig Huber told Wired: “I would expect this ability in other species pairs, such as domestic species in close relationships to humans, but also in animals in zoos or sanctuaries. I would be surprised if enculturated great apes would not be able to solve the task we presented to the pet dogs.”
He concluded: “In my opinion, every animal that lives somehow in a close relationship to another species that shows clear emotional expressions should be able to encode them with enough experience.”
Your Dog Can Read Your Face