For all you dog lovers out there who’ve always claimed your dog knows what you’re thinking, it looks like you may be correct.
A new study published by the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom shows that dogs can recognize human emotions by combining information from different senses, reports The Telegraph.
“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,” Dr. Kun Guo, a researcher at the University’s School of Psychology, told The Telegraph. “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.”
Seventeen domestic dogs took part in the study, in which they were shown pairs of pictures: of a person, one happy, one angry; or of a dog looking aggressive or playful. Researchers then played audio of a person speaking in a language none of the dogs was familiar with in a cheerful or angry tone as well as sounds of playful or aggressive barks.
What scientists found was that the dog subjects tended to look at the picture that matched the tone of the voice or bark, picking out the correct facial expression more often than not. Moreover, the dogs lingered longer on the dog pictures than the human pictures, which researchers said indicated a greater sensitivity to their own species’ facial expressions.
Co-author Professor Daniel Mills, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, told the news organization it was important to know that, “the dogs in our trials received no prior training or period of familiarization with the subjects in the images or audio.” She added these findings suggest dogs having the ability to combine emotional cues “may be intrinsic.”
“It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognize human emotions,” Mills said. “Many dog owners report anecdotally that their pets seem highly sensitive to the moods of human family members.”