Dogs take a swim in Botany Bay. Photo: Nic Walker New research has shown that dogs use vocal and facial cues to understand human emotions. Photo: iStock
Dog owners worldwide have long suspected that their canine companions can understand how they’re feeling.
And now science has thrown us a bone.
New research has shown that pet dogs use visual and auditory cues simultaneously to understand humans’ and dogs’ emotions.
This ability to understand emotion through facial and vocal expressions was previously only known in humans.
In the study, conducted by researchers in Britain and Brazil, 17 family pet dogs were shown images of a happy and an angry face at the same time, while a single voice recording was played.
The recordings were either dog barks or a human voice speaking an unfamiliar language, and had either a positive or negative tone.
The researchers found that the dogs looked “significantly longer” at the image with the corresponding emotional tone, and showed a “clear preference” for the matching face in 67 per cent of the trials.
However, the dogs responded more clearly to the dog stimuli than the human stimuli.
This ability may be a “particularly advantageous” tool for a social species such as dogs and indicates a “high-level” cognitive power, according to the study.
Dogs may have developed this ability to form closer friendship with their owners, the study suggested.
“The ability to recognise emotions through visual and auditory cues … might have been developed for the establishment and maintenance of long-term relationships with humans,” the study reported.
“It is possible that during domestication, such features could have been retained and potentially selected for, albeit unconsciously.”
There have been ongoing debates among researchers as to whether dogs can interpret human emotions, with previous research indicating dogs could understand human facial expressions.
However, this was the first study to find that pet dogs also listen to your tone of voice to understand how you are feeling.
The findings were published in the journal Biology Letters.
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