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Scientists have discovered that dogs can tell if you’re happy or angry just by looking at your face! Every single dog owner who reads that headline immediately thinks, “no shit.” I thought that, too! Who hasn’t had a dog immediately start cowering when you’re angry, or come over and put a paw on your leg when you’re sad, or bring a toy to play with when you’re happy?
This could easily be spun into one of those “scientists waste public money and their own time” type of stories, but actually I think it’s a really great example of science that should be done.
It’s easy to project our thoughts and emotions on the animals we love, which is why there’s a market for things like pet psychics and music for cats.
There’s also a trend online of “dog shaming,” in which people take pics of their dogs admitting to the horrible things they do like eating the sofa or pooping in a shoe. There’s good evidence to suggest that dogs don’t feel shame – and even if they do feel shame, that’s probably not the emotion they’re conveying when you walk into the room to see garbage strewn across the floor. According to a 2009 study, they cower and mope because their human is being loud and angry, and that’s upsetting.
We need the scientific method for exactly this kind of thing, things that seem obvious but are really more complex than we think because we’re humans and our brains are always tricking us.
In this case, researchers gave dogs treats for distinguishing between pictures of angry and happy faces. They found that most dogs could figure out the difference, but the dogs trained to point out happy faces were quicker to do so compared to the dogs pointing out angry faces, suggesting that dogs are more interested in approaching happy humans compared to angry ones.
The researchers say they want to continue this research by seeing if it would also work with wolves. They’re looking for volunteers to approach wolves in the wild looking either angry or happy. If you live near any packs of wolves, feel free to be a citizen scientist and go out there with your chosen emotion and then report back to the researchers on what happens.
Front page featured image is our very own Surly Amy’s Rocket!