As we’re becoming more aware, as pet owners, about how our pets thrive and function both physically and emotionally, it turns out that pets have also been studying us. A recent study confirmed that our dogs have been studying our emotions and our behavior so that they can better communicate with us. They’ve been doing this for thousands of years, so it’s no wonder that they’ve gotten pretty good at reading, sensing, and sniffing out our mood and emotions.
Your dog can read your emotions
Dogs have been our best friends for thousands of years. When you spend that much time in close proximity to another being, you’re bound to start to pick up on subtle emotional cues and behavior. A dog will pick up clues from the tone of your voice, body odor, and posture. We’ve always been told that dogs can smell fear, but they can smell so much more than that. Perhaps they are not so much smelling fear, as they are analyzing our behavior and deducting from our posture and odor that we are anxious, nervous, or scared. Once the dog has concluded our emotion, they will adjust their own behavior to match our emotional state. It’s how they know exactly when you need your face licked or a furry hug on the couch. It’s also how they know when to leave you alone for a minute.
Studying dogs studying people
A big factor in dogs understanding human emotions is being able to read our facial expressions. The study would show dog photos of faces expressing fear, anger, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust. A second photo showing a person with a neutral expression would be used as the control.
Anger, fear, and happiness
The emotions that would elicit a stressful reaction from dogs were anger, fear, and happiness. Their heart rate would accelerate and they would tilt their head to the left. Researchers concluded that a stressful reaction to happy emotions was due to their natural animal instincts that when teeth are visible, is a sign of danger. We see it as smiling; your dog sees it as us baring our teeth. This does not mean that you can’t smile around your dog, as long as you smell like happiness and your body language is relaxed, your buddy will welcome that smile.
Doggy head tilt
We can also learn a lot about our dog’s emotions from how they react to our emotional state. To process different emotions, dogs will use different parts of their brain. Understanding your dog’s head tilts will help you understand their emotional state.
- Tilt to the right – when a dog tilts (or turns) her head to the right they are reacting to your positive and relaxed emotional state.
- Tilt to the left – the left side of the doggy brain is used to process the “fight or flight” emotions. If your dogs head is tilted left, they are sensing trouble.
Different emotions produce different odors. The distinction is too subtle for us to recognize, but your dogs are much more sensitive. Your dog can distinguish between “happy sweat” and “fearful sweat.” Researchers noticed that when the dog owner and a stranger were placed in a room and the dog got a whiff of fear, they would instantly begin to show signs of stress. They would also stick close to their owner, looking for signs of assurance that everything was okay. When they got a whiff of happy the dog would spend much more time checking out the stranger in the room because they had the reassurance that their owner was relaxed and happy.