Sometimes we project human emotions onto our pets, as if they think and react to things like we do. While they are very perceptive and can pick up on our ups and downs, we too have the ability to sense their emotions very well, according to a new study.
The emotional connection with our pets is just as strong as it is with our fellow humans, in some respects. Tina Bloom and Harry Friedman of Walden University in Florida worked with Mal, a five-year-old Belgian shepherd and trained police dog at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. He was subjected to various stimuli, with his reactions documented in pictures.
The methods for eliciting the reactions were pretty interesting, including:
- A jack-in-the-box was used to surprise him
- Praising him brought on erect ears
- Reprimanding him flattened his ears
- Bad-tasting medicine “disgusted” him
- Nail trimmers were used to cause fear
Being able to spot a happy dog is not particularly surprising. What may be surprising is the 12 percent of respondents who didn’t identify the emotion. It starts to get a little more interesting once the study got to the negative emotions of sadness and fear. Only 45 percent of the participants noticed the fearful reaction and 37 percent got the sad look. Disgust was the least recognized, with just 13 percent. Keep that in mind when you decide to reach for the cheap dog food on your next grocery run.
The biggest surprise came when the researchers found that people who did not own dogs were sometimes more perceptive than those with dogs. Maybe the emotional connection with dogs is innate to all humans.
“There is no doubt that humans have the ability to recognize emotional states in other humans and accurately read other humans’ facial expressions. We have shown that humans are also able to accurately – if not perfectly – identify at least one dog’s facial expressions,” said Bloom.
Bloom wants to continue her study to see if this emotional connection extends to all mammals or if it’s just with domesticated animals like dogs, which have been by our side for for millennia.