Here’s more proof than the dog really is man’s best friend: according to a new study, dogs really can read and understand human emotions.
The study, which was carried out by researchers in Vienna, Austria, found that dogs can distinguish between different emotions—like anger and happiness—by looking at the human face.
But there’s a catch: the researchers trained many of the dogs to read facial expressions. The dogs were provided with pictures showing people in different emotional states and then trained to distinguish between them. The researchers then changed the pictures—this time showing the dogs different people but similar emotions.
According to the study’s senior author, Ludwig Huber, the dogs demonstrated an understanding of the emotions they were shown. “Our study demonstrates that dogs can distinguish angry and happy expressions in humans,” says Huber, who works at the Messerli Research Insititute based at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. “They can tell that these two expressions have different meanings, and they can do this not only for people they know well, but even for faces they have never seen before.”
Corsin Müller, who worked on the study alongside Huber, hopes future studies will advance his team’s findings. “We expect to gain important insights into the extraordinary bond between humans and one of their favorite pets, and into the emotional lives of animals in general,” Müller said.
The study can now be read in the journal Current Biology.