A group of scientists have investigated the ability that people have to recognize how our dogs feel from looking at their eyes.
The novelty of the experiment is that the information provided comes exclusively from the dog’s gaze. Nothing to add data from sounds or body postures. Even the rest of the information on the face has been omitted, showing only that, the dog’s gaze .
Photographs of dog stares were shown to the participants. They were then asked to match them with one of the four basic emotions present in dogs. These are joy, fear, sadness, and anger .
The photographs belonged to three breeds of dogs:
- Belgian shepherd malinois
- rhodesian ridgeback
Based on these studies, we would better understand the eyes of the Rhodesian Ridgeback .
However, this conclusion could be due to the fact that it is a very similar breed to the typical breeds of the place where the experiment was carried out, so it could be a matter of familiarity. What is warned by the authors themselves.
It also seems that Doberman Pinschers would be the least understood when it comes to their emotions. This could be because its dark color makes it difficult to perceive the details in the photograph itself.
The participants were correct by matching photos and emotions, in a higher percentage than would be expected by pure chance.
This indicates that we are able to understand the gaze of dogs.
The most accurate emotion of the four considered was fear. When dogs feel fear, it is very common for them to open their eyes showing the sclera of the eyeball or white part. This open eye conformation is known as a whale’s eye .
Other studies have evaluated our success in identifying emotions in dogs, from the complete facial expression. The results show that, in addition to these four basic emotions: joy, fear, sadness and anger, we are able to recognize two more emotions. These are disgust and surprise .
Humans recognize, therefore, in dogs, six emotional expressions looking at their faces.
There are two facial muscles at the top of our dogs’ eyes that allow them to frown and show pity .
It seems that dogs with these more developed muscles would have been unconsciously selected by humans, favoring their dispersal and selection in dog populations.
Studies show how shelter dogs with these more obvious muscles have a higher chance of being adopted.
Something that is very evident in certain breeds of dogs, such as pugs , is the tendency of humans to select dog faces that are more childlike. This means that they are more like a human baby.
Thus, looks with round eyes and shorter snouts are sought, selecting characters that can be extremely detrimental to the dog’s health.
You can consult about the health problems associated with the infantilization of the canine face in this very interesting article .
Another curiosity, proven by science, is that when humans and our dogs exchange glances, we both secrete oxytocin . This hormone of love is very present when it comes to strengthening emotional ties with our dog . Producing in many cases, a sensation identical to the one we have when we look at and take care of our children.
It is indisputable that dogs have a great ability to understand people and adapt to our emotions.
Dogs are tireless observers and tremendously adept at identifying emotions in our tone of voice and in our gestures.
In addition, their powerful sense of smell allows them to identify the molecules present in each of our emotional states. Being able to capture through your nose, for example, if we are stressed .
Bloom et al. 2021. Identifying facial expressions in dogs: A replication and extension study . Behavioral Processes, 186, 104371.
Burza, L.Bet al. 2022. Reading Emotions in Dogs’ Eyes and Dogs’ Faces . Behavioral Processes, 104752.