A new study has attempted to determine what dogs can tell from looking at human faces.
Duke University researcher Brian Hare comments, “This new work continues to build the case for just how sensitive dogs are to our subtle behaviors. This is the strongest evidence yet that dogs may even read our facial expressions.”
Study author Ludwig Huber explains “It seems that dogs dislike approaching angry faces.”
Hare, who was not involved with the study, continues, “This means when being trained to categorize the original set of faces as either happy or unhappy the dogs did not rely on features specific to the photos they were being trained on. They must have used a higher-level rule like ‘happy face’ or ‘unhappy face’ that also allowed them to succeed with the new faces. That is a surprising finding.”
Huber adds, “It had been unknown that dogs could recognize human emotions in this way. To better understand the development of these skills, we want to perform similar tests also with wolves at the Wolf Science Center.”
Corsin Muller, of the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, in Vienna, adds, “We’re mostly interested in what’s going on in the heads of animals.” The lead study author adds that these ideas could help us understand how to better care for the animals in our lives. “Most of this is about how we keep them and how we treat them. What sort of conditions do the animals need to live happy lives?”
Finally Corsin concludes, “We believe that dogs draw on their memory during this exercise. They recognize a facial expression which they have already stored. We suspect that dogs that have no experience with people would perform worse or could not solve the task at all.”