Your Dog Really Does Understand How You Feel

Researchers study how dogs respond to our moods.

By Catalina Barrios

Credit: Shutterstock / Nina Buday

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing is turning out as expected? You keep looking at the clock, but time is at a standstill; you just can’t wait to get out of there. All you want to do when you get home is take a shower and face-plant on the couch. Your dog excitedly greets you at the door, but he can immediately see you’ve had a bad day. Dogs look for emotional cues on your face, just like humans.

Credit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

According to a study published in BioRxiv, dogs are responsive to all human emotions, as they watch the left side of the face for changes in mood cues.  The corresponding response in their brain is so distinctive, in fact, that a brain scan alone can indicate if the dog is gazing at a happy person (or otherwise).

Scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico measured the brain activity of eight dogs with the goal to measure response while observing different human emotions. Dogs were trained to remain still and calm inside a MRI scanner, kept unrestrained and comfortable.  While inside the machine, the canine subjects were shown pictures of strangers that were either happy or neutral.  Scientist were able to locate a unique neurosignature in the dogs’ temporal lobe that lit up when one of the dogs saw a happy human face.

Credit: Shutterstock / Happy monkey

In the second part of the experiment, these same dogs were shown pictures of humans that were happy, sad, fearful, or angry. One control was put into place whereby each dog looked at photos that were of the same gender as their owner. Previous studies have demonstrated that dogs scored lower on recognizing an emotion when analyzing a face of the opposite gender to which they were accustomed.

Credit: Shutterstock / Pindyurin Vasily

After reviewing the images, scientists again saw that the happiness neurosignature was strongly distinct; the dogs were able to pick out that emotion when presented with at least three other options. It seems that your darling pooch actually does know how you feel! The response to the happy image was so specific that a machine learning program analyzing the dogs’ brain could indicate when the dog was looking at the picture of a person smiling.

Credit: Shutterstock / oneinchpunch

Researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico suggest happy human faces have a key role in the bonding between dogs and humans. Dogs are very smart and they can tell the difference between angry, scared, tired and sad. Based on this study, human happiness has a strong response in the dog’s brain.

Credit: Shutterstock / Olesia Bilkei

Want to make your dog happy? It is as easy as smiling! Let us know if there are any topics that you want us to write about. It is very rewarding to learn about our most loyal and trusted friends, our dogs.