Dogs can understand human emotions, university research finds

Dogs are able to recognise human emotions by using their senses, according to a new study by professors at the University of Lincoln and Brazil’s University of São Paulo.

Rodriguez Sosa (via Flickr)

Rodriguez Sosa (via Flickr)

Research found that the common household pet – often considered ‘man’s best friend’ – can understand positive and negative emotions from humans and are not just identifying certain facial expressions.

The study saw 17 untrained dogs presented with images and audio associated with certain emotions.

It revealed that when the pictures and sounds matched the same emotion, dogs would spend longer looking at the human’s facial expressions. The research also demonstrates that dogs can create mental images of positive and negative feelings.

Dr Kun Guo, from Lincoln’s School of Psychology, said: “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.”

Professor Daniel Mills, Head of Research Strategy at the university’s School of Life Sciences, added: “It has been a long-standing debate whether dogs can recognise human emotions. Many dog owners report anecdotally that their pets seem highly sensitive to the moods of human family members.

Whilst previous studies have explored the relationship between man and dog in different ways, Professor Mills explained that this study’s findings “are the first to show that dogs truly recognise emotions in humans and other dogs”.

The study has since been published in the Royal Society’s journal, Biology Letters, and can be found online.