Showsight May 2017


UNIVERSITY STUDY CONFIRMS WHAT DOG TRAINERS AND OWNERS HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN— DOGS LOVE HAPPY FACES & FEAR FROWNS, BUT HERE’S WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT EYES T he University of Helsinki studied responses of 31 dogs when they were presented with photographs of people with different facial expressions. The researchers interspersed the human faces with different breeds of dogs, all showing either a threatening, pleasant or neutral expression. As the photos changed on the screen, another machine directed infrared light at the dog’s eyes (was that safe?) to mea- sure and record the eye movements. The result was pretty clear in that dogs read human facial expressions. Dogs look first at the eyes to gauge mood and intent. Then they look at the middle of the face whether human or canine. The report explained that “different emotions are associated with different patterns of wrinkles on the snout.” To that we would add that flared nostrils in both humans and animals communicate both fear and aggression depending on the situation. Picture a startled horse

or an angry man. The open nostrils are easily seen on a horse but you’ve seen in people, even children. Surprisingly the Finnish study showed that dogs look least at the mouth. No explanation was offered other than the observation that people (who were also tested) “spend a lot of time looking at the mouth to decode emotional expressions.” My personal opinion is that dogs do notice another dog’s mouth as in a dog simply lifting its lips to signal “don’t come any closer to my food bowl.” The report concluded that “dogs paid more attention when the expres- sion was threatening.” Well duh! What was interesting is that the dogs actu- ally tried to avoid looking at photos of “negative or threatening human faces.” Observant dog owners know dogs will look away when we are angry

and seek eye contact to enforce a scold- ing so clearly, dogs can read what’s coming even in a photo of someone else’s face. “The ability to recognize human facial expressions, as well as other human cues, does not appear to be innate. Rather the dogs acquire it as they come to associate, say, a smile with a reward, like extra doggie treats or affection,” according to Monique Udell, who studies canine cogni- tion and behavior at the University of Florida. She explained “We know that dogs are very good at picking up on subtle cues given by humans” and “It is interesting that picture discrimina- tions of this type can be trained in dogs as well.” Have you ever sat very still and observed your mother dog silently teach her puppies? They quickly learn


68 • S how S ight M agazine , M ay 2017

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