You just found out your dog chewed your favorite toy. Can your dog tell if you are angry? We humans look at our dogs’ tails to see if they are happy, but do dogs look at our face to see if we are smiling or frowning?
A team of researchers set out to determine whether dogs could distinguish between happy and angry faces. Dogs stood in a booth looking at a computer screen where they were shown two pictures side by side: one of a happy face and one of an angry face . The dogs had to choose the happy or angry face by touching the computer screen with their nose. Some dogs were given treats whenever they chose happy faces, and some dogs were given treats for choosing angry faces. Most of the dogs got very good at choosing the correct face depending on which one got them the treats. They were able to recognize the correct emotion in new faces they had never seen before. Scientists even made it a little tricky by just showing the eyes or the mouth instead of the whole face.
Dogs that got treat rewards for choosing happy faces got good pretty quickly at picking the right face. On the other hand, dogs that got rewarded for choosing angry faces took longer to get the hang of touching the angry face to get their treat. One of the scientists, Ludwig Huber said, “It seems that the dogs dislike approaching angry faces.” This makes sense if dogs understand the meaning of an angry face. Would you want to move towards someone that has an angry face?
So now we know that dogs can tell the difference between human happy and angry faces, but these experiments were all done on pet dogs. Next, the researchers want to find out if dogs that have not been around people, like wolves, are as good at recognizing human facial expressions. Do you think other types of pets recognize our facial expressions?