Remember that blue vase Spot broke? When you started yelling at him you though that he was looking down in guilt, admitting his fault, but according to recent studies, your dog can tell when you’re angry by looking at your facial expression, especially your eyes. And the looking down is a sign of respect, not guilt admittance.
People have various ways of telling if someone is angry, sad, happy or nervous. They usually look at the facial expression and the body posture. There are many books written on the body posture and body language.
Human beings have distracted themselves over the years from the eye region to a more broad view of the person with which they interact. The “hands rested on the hips” posture means we’re upset, when we hold our arms around out body it means we’re not feeling safe and the examples could continue.
But as the popular saying dictates, eyes never lie. And dogs know that very well. It seems that dogs are capable of more empathy than we first thought. And they don’t have a complex sensory detection system, they don’t “sniff out” our fear and anger as many people think, they just look into our eyes.
A team of researchers from the Helsinki University devised an experiment in order to determine whether or not dogs are capable of recognizing facial expressions in both humans and their canine counterparts.
In order to do so, the team gathered a sample of 31 dogs that were a part of 23 different breeds and showed them pictures of angry humans and dogs. The results were surprising.
When confronted with the picture of an angry human, the dogs first looked at the person’s eyes and then at the whole face. Most of the dogs reacted to the pictures by lowering their eyes. This type of behavior was thought, until now, to show guilt and submission.
But it seems that the gesture has more to say. The researchers think that the dogs lowered their gaze in order to show respect to the angry humans, to try and tell them that they do not want to engage in any violence.
When confronted with pictures of angry fellow canids, the dogs reacted quite differently. While the focus was still on the eyes of the virtual adversary, the dogs started to growl, show their teeth or continue to stare while strengthening their bodies, which is a sign of emotional distress.
The conclusion of the scientists was that the dogs focus on the eyes and facial expression of a person to see what mood the individual is in. Furthermore, it seems that the dogs tend to avoid any possible conflict with humans.
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