London - We all know that guilty look on the dog’s face when he swipes a sausage from the kitchen work top.
But it seems that’s not the only emotion we can recognise in our canine friends.
Scientists believe humans have developed a natural empathy with dogs as we have evolved side-by-side for the past 100,000 years.
A study found people are able to identify a precise range of emotions in dogs from slight movements in their facial expressions.
Humans are naturally attuned to detecting how their pets are feeling and can correctly spot when the animals are happy, sad, angry, scared or even surprised, the experts say.
Volunteers were shown a range of different images of the same dog and they were able to detect the exact emotion of the animal.
Dr Tina Bloom, a psychologist who led the research, said: “Although humans often think of themselves as disconnected or even isolated from nature, our study suggests there are patterns that connect, and one of these is in the form of emotional communication.”
The study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes, used images of a police dog named Mal as it experienced a range of different emotions brought on by the researchers.
For instance, they reprimanded the five-year-old Belgian shepherd to trigger a “sad” reaction, causing the animal to pull a mournful expression with eyes cast down. The photographs were then shown to 50 volunteers who were split into two groups according to their experience of dogs. Happiness was by far the easiest emotion to recognise with 88 percent of the volunteers correctly identifying it. Anger was identified by 70 percent of participants.
About 45 percent of volunteers spotted when Mal was frightened, while 37 percent could identify the relatively subtle emotion of sadness. The canine expressions that were hardest for humans to identify were surprise and disgust.
The study by Dr Bloom and Prof Harris Friedman, both from Walden University in Minneapolis, found those with minimal experience of dogs were better at identifying negative emotions. Dr Bloom said this was perhaps because dog owners convinced themselves their pet was not aggressive and so the associated facial expression was just playing.
Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today, said dog lovers would feel vindicated by the research. She said: “I am not at all surprised science has finally accepted what we knew all along – dog and owner communicate perfectly well without words.” - Daily Mail