A new study suggests that dogs have the intrinsic ability to recognise human feelings on top of emotional cues from other dogs. It appears that their exposure to humans, and coexistence, for thousands of years has caused them to evolve this characteristic, maybe as a way to fit in better. Is it any surprise that dogs can show such understanding when it is established that they are very close to their owners?! After all, regardless of being of a different species, animals are living beings!
People with dogs as pets often claim that the latter can respond to their emotional states. When they are sad, their dogs can sense it as though they can understand their need for comfort and consolation. But, is this really true? Can we prove that dogs are empathetic? Scientific studies attempting to deduce whether such inter-species understanding exists have remained elusive in terms of their results. However, a research recently published in Biology Letters suggests that dogs are able to identify emotions of both their own species and humans’.
The new study, aimed at finding out whether dogs could recognise emotional states, marks the first time an animal has been shown to have this ability in regard to the feelings of individuals of another species.
The experiment involved exposing the dogs to images of people and dogs while specific emotional sounds would be played in the background, and the time the dogs spent looking at the pictures was measured. Some sounds matched with the facial expressions depicted in the images while others did not.
The researchers observed that the dogs would look at images with matching sounds for a longer period of time – they deduced that the animals were able to correctly correlate the two variables (sound and image) and thus to identify the emotional state. The dogs not having had any prior training with the experimental procedure, the scientists concluded that the ability was intrinsic.
On the other hand, the dogs showed a significantly greater response to dog stimuli (conspecific stimuli) than to human stimuli (heterospecific).
Previous studies showing how dogs can display strong attachments to their owners suggest that the animals have acquired the ability to consider their humans as social support systems. Perhaps, then, the ability to recognise human emotions – as demonstrated in the new study – is just a component of this evolved skill. Dogs have to coexist with humans, and they already are extremely loyal and loving companions which would literally die for you if need be; perhaps, the findings really prove they are able to sense our feelings and emotional states.