Dogs Understand Human Emotions

· November 5, 2018

Animal cognition has been demonstrated on several occasions and continues to be proved on a daily basis. Not only with the house pets but also with wild animals. So in this article, you will learn how people discovered that dogs understand human emotions, especially their owners.

Dogs Feel and Understand Human Emotions

Person petting a small dog

This phrase is very common among dog owners when it comes to spending time with their canine friends because they witness their abilities on a daily basis. Everyone who loves dogs knows that pets realize when their family members are sad, angry or happy.

Dogs know exactly at what moment to give their family support and affection, and when to leave them alone. But, what do they base their decisions on? According to research, dogs take the following three things into consideration: your body language, the amount of pheromones that your body “emits” and vocal signs.

A group of Hungarian scientists took several pictures of dogs’ brains by using an MRI. They concluded that when the dogs heard their owners laughing, their brains reacted differently to hearing the same people cry. The dogs even experienced joy or sadness when their owners did.

The training and scanning sessions were conducted on 11 dogs. They remained still for 8 minutes in order to be evaluated by the machine. Also, they observed the brains of 22 people who heard sounds of dogs, humans, environments, cars, etc.

Humans had stronger responses to other people’s sounds while dogs reacted more intensely to sounds made by other dogs. The results were amazing. The cerebral cortexes that activated were similar in both cases.

The temporal pole, located in the anterior part of the temporal lobe, is responsible for regulating emotions, language, hearing, memory and learning. This area was the most active in both people and dogs upon hearing certain sounds.

Previous studies have shown that an adult dog’s mental age is similar to that of a  5-year old child. Based on that theory, if a small child knows when their mother or siblings are sad, so do dogs.

Your Dog Can Understand How You Feel

Woman holding a Dachshund

Another study, this time carried out by the University of Vienna and published in their Current Biology magazine, affirmed that dogs can distinguish between happy and angry facial expressions. Dogs are able to understand the signs that indicate and go along with, each feeling.

The authors of the study indicate that this is the first solid evidence that has been collected regarding the idea that animals can recognize emotions in other species. Dogs were able to successfully pass a test that orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas –that according to some people are distant relatives to humans — were not able to pass.

Primates can recognize facial expressions, but only among their peers. This is completely understandable because most species lack interest in knowing what is happening to another … Except for dogs, who are closely connected to humans.

The 10 dogs that participated in the experiment were from several different breeds (Border Collies, Terriers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds, to be exact.) The dogs were positioned to watch a screen and observe people showing different human emotions through their facial expressions.

Apparently, their response to an angry facial expression is an intimidating stimulus. However, they were more relaxed when they saw a smile or eyes full of joy. This is the theory that they came up with: dogs memorize their owners’ expressions and relate them to specific moments or situations.

For example, if a dog breaks something and their owner gets angry, that facial expression will remind them of the negative aspects of the event. However, the opposite is true if the dog plays with their master. If they see that a person has a happy facial expression, then they know that he/she is happy. As you can see, dogs can certainly understand human emotions.