Nowhere to hide now!

Have a dog or two in the house? Hide your feelings then!

I have previously remarked on how quickly our dogs pick up on key words and phrases spoken by either Jean or me.  In my case, long before I met Jean when I was living in Devon with Pharaoh, I quickly learnt that voicing the word ‘walk’ caused an eruption of interest from his nibs. Then I foiled his intelligence by spelling the word out: w-a-l-k.  That lasted all of a fortnight (or two weeks in American speak) before Pharaoh knitted the letters into that walk word.

Here in Oregon our living-room/bedroom group of dogs (Pharaoh, Hazel, Cleo, Sweeney and Oliver) pick up on so many human comments, sayings, and behaviours that at times it feels as though Jean and I need to go somewhere private in order to discuss anything that affects our lovely dogs.

All of which is a preamble to a fascinating article recently seen on the Smithsonian Magazine website.

Our furry friends might be able to infer our mood based on our facial expressions - just like human buddies do. (Photo: JLPH/cultura/Corbis

Our furry friends might be able to infer our mood based on our facial expressions – just like human buddies do. (Photo: JLPH/cultura/Corbis)

Dogs Can Tell Whether You’re Making a Happy or Mad Face

For the first time, science shows that a non-human animal can recognize the emotional state of another species

By Rachel Nuwer
February 12, 2015

Facial expressions are a key asset in our arsenal of communication methods. Without saying a word, we can alert those around us to our emotional state—ranging from elation to sorrow—simply by flexing a few muscles. Such expressions have evolved to help us connect with one another, avoid danger and work together.

Fellow humans, however, are not the only ones potentially tuning in to the information our expressions convey. According to the results of a study published today in Current Biology, dogs have hacked this silent method of communication, at least enough to distinguish between angry and happy facial expressions.

Dogs and humans share a tight evolutionary bond, which is why veterinarian researchers from the University of Vienna decided to focus on these two species for their study. Dogs are already known to be whizzes at reading us. For instance, they can discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar faces even if just part of the face is shown in a photograph. Whether they actually recognize emotions, however, had not been conclusively investigated before.

It would be wrong to republish the full article without permission but I do want to share another photograph from the article and the closing paragraphs.

A canine research subject differentiates between angry and happy eyes. Photo: Anjuli Barber, Messerli Research Institute

Before the authors delve into the greater animal kingdom, though, they plan to further explore their canine findings. Experiments with puppies could lend insight into whether facial expression recognition is something dogs learn over their lives or if it’s something more innate. And trials with wolves could indicate whether human breeders bestowed emotion recognition in their canine companions via artificial selection, or whether that trait was something dogs’ ancient relatives developed on their own simply by living in the vicinity of humans.

While the initial controlled laboratory findings don’t prove that your dog is watching your every facial move for clues about how you are feeling, they do open up the possibility that dogs are even more empathetic best friends than we thought.

Many of you who have dogs in your lives will intuitively know this to be true. But having the scientific underpinning is wonderful confirmation of that truth.

I’m sure I am not alone in having a dog come up to me and lick the tears off my face.

What incredible loving and trusting relationships we have with our dogs.

To underline my last sentence, on a whim I just took the following photograph of Hazel who very rarely isn’t by my side.

Picture taken at 10:35 yesterday morning in my 'home office' when I had finished writing today's post.
Picture taken at 10:35 yesterday morning in my ‘home office’ when I had just finished writing today’s post.

13 thoughts on “Nowhere to hide now!

  1. Cannot thank you enough, Paul, for your fascinating dog stories, of which this is yet another informative instalment. I look forward to the day when I am finished with my travel commitments and become fully able to keep a canine or two at my home…best wishes… Raj.

  2. My dogs are very en tuned to my feelings too. They can tell when I’ve had a bad day then they’re right there to give me comfort, I think more than I can give them sometimes. Great post.

  3. Pee knows the word walk, how to spell it, saying just the first letter – she knows the word Go. She knows the phrase – “do the thing” and she knows the finger jester of walking. oh and she knows the jerk of the head in the direction of the downstairs. Peyton and I are always trying to come up with another code. lately we have been reduced to using eyes only to signal the stairs (without head movement) but knowing her intelligence, she will have this figured out soon….. any suggestions would be appreciated. I was thinking dry erase board, but she will figure it out….. 🙂

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