They call him man’s (and woman’s!) best friend for a reason. Your dog is your companion and knows you way better than you probably think. A new study revealed that your dog can interpret the emotional expression on your face, meaning that yes, they know they did a bad thing when they look at your face next to that knocked-down kitchen trash can.


A study published in Learning & Behavior researched 26 very good boys and girls (later narrowed to a select pool of 21). The pups of varying breeds were shown six different types of adult expression fueled by emotion — anger, fear, sadness, disgust, happiness, and surprise. They were also shown a neutral expression, to balance everything out. The study proved that the dogs had an elevated heart rate had more of a visible reaction when presented with anger, happiness, and fear. Reactions the researchers were looking for included panting, salivating, and tail position.

But it was the head turning that, well, made the researcher’s heads turn. The dogs turned their heads to the left after identifying anger, fear, and joy, and turned their heads to the right at surprise. That’s likely because surprise isn’t an emotion that dogs feel threatened by. The right side of the brain is responsible for “fight or flight,” so it makes sense that dogs favor that side when the human emotion is a little more intense.

The University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology conducted a similar study in 2016, which also included auditory samples and found the same results.

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“Previous studies have indicated that dogs can differentiate between human emotions from cues such as facial expressions, but this is not the same as emotional recognition,” said Dr. Kun Guo, a researcher in the University of Lincoln study. “Our study shows that dogs have the ability to integrate two different sources of sensory information into a coherent perception of emotion in both humans and dogs. To do so requires a system of internal categorization of emotional states. This cognitive ability has until now only been evidenced in primates and the capacity to do this across species only seen in humans.”

So next time you’re going through a breakup, or receive bad news at work, you should cuddle up with your pup. They know what you’re going through and will be a loyal lifetime companion.


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