The canine has long been Man’s greatest animal companion, a la “Man’s Best Friend.” But while their loyalty is without question we have not always, necessarily, understood the somewhat mystical bond we have with dogs.
A new study from the combined efforts of research out of the University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil, and the University of Lincoln, in the United Kingdom examined 17 domesticated dogs to determine that these remarkable animals are actually capable of recognizing human emotions by combining information they gather from their different sensory organs.
The study, which has been published in the scientific journal Biology Letters, shows that not only can dogs inherently understand human emotions, but they can actually form an abstract representation of our negative and positive emotional states.
The researchers more than a dozen domesticated dogs with image and sound pairings that combine to convey several different kinds of emotional reactions—both positive and negative—in humans and dogs.
Study author Kun Guo notes that previous studies on this topic have managed to show that dogs do have the ability to differentiate human emotions by taking some cues from human facial expressions, although, this does not mean that they necessarily can concretely understand “emotion.”
Guo says, “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.”
The researchers also add, “Therefore, it is likely that dogs possess at least the mental prototypes for emotional categorization (positive versus negative affect) and can recognize the emotional content of these expressions. Moreover, dogs performed in this way without any training or familiarization with the models, suggesting that these emotional signals are intrinsically important.”
Finally, study co-author Daniel Mils concludes: “Our findings are the first to show that dogs truly recognize emotions in humans and other dogs.”
It is imperative to note that these animals did not receive any training, nor were they necessarily familiar with these sounds or images prior to the study. They had not viewed any of these photos or listened to any audio clips before the experiment, which makes the results more conclusive that the animals formed these natural reactions on their own.