When you’re feeling sad, stressed or angry, your beloved canine pal knows all too well just what to do when it comes to helping you through your emotions. And as their very best pal, you know exactly how to reciprocate those intuitive feelings, right?
Well actually, recent studies have shown that this may not be the case. If you think you know your pooch and how he’s feeling, it might be time to think again.
According to research conducted by British Neuroscientist; Sophie Scott, your four-legged friend might well have better social skills than you do.
Professor Scott elaborated on these findings as part of the Royal Institute Christmas Lectures in December 2017. These lectures look at a different theme every December and have taken place every year and the most recent one shone a light on communication between humans and animals.
Speaking to The Times, Professor Scott highlighted: 'There was a study this year that showed that dogs don't like being hugged. And whilst it can be easy to assume that your dog is different, Scott highlighted that 'You look at photographs of dogs being hugged by people and the dogs show objective signs of distress.’
So, as much as your pal might enjoy snuggling up to you during your latest Netflix binge, it might be necessary to quite literally hold off when it comes to holding your pooch. As Professor Scott highlighted ‘Dogs are great at reading us but we are pretty shocking at reading them.’
As research has shown time and time again that dogs are extremely skilled when it comes to reading their owners faces, it seems only fair to try and improve people’s accuracy when it comes to reading dogs’ facial expressions.
This is where The Dog Facial Action Coding System, also known as DogFACS comes into play. This scientific observational tool is based on the original 1970’s project; The Facial Action Coding System. With a focus on measuring human facial expressions, dogFACS has been adapted to focus on - yep you’ve guessed it - the clever canine.
Conducted by the Lead Researcher of the University of Portsmouth; Julianne Kaminiski, DogFACS is a relatively new study. But there has already been one published experiment with some exciting findings.
In this particular case, 27 dogs were filmed in various dog shelters and “The dogs were presented with an experimental situation in which a human demonstrator was either attending to them or turned away.” The pooches facial expressions were filmed and the findings showed that the more attentive the person was, the more facial movements the dogs produced. And the most common expression? That’s right, those ultra cute “puppy dog eyes.”
Kaminiski noted "We can now be confident that the production of facial expressions made by dogs are dependent on the attention state of their audience and are not just a result of dogs being excited."
This is likely to be the reason for the misinterpretation of so many of Fido’s expressions. Many dog owners view their pals facial expression as sad, excited or even guilty. Teeth bearing can often be seen as a smile, and those puppy dog eyes you’re so used to seeing? This conveyance is based on human presence and not necessarily due to genuine emotion. The assumption comes from a human mindset, and not the dogs’. Kaminski sees the objectivity of dogFACS as a way to assist with these common issues.
Whether the expression is intentional by way of manipulation or for communicative purposes, is still being researched. But as the study shows so far, it turns out that Fido really is a clever boy.