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Dogs can discriminate between human faces by looking at pictures. This was recently demonstrated by Ludwig Huber and his colleagues way back in 2013. However, to the question as to whether dogs are capable of discriminating between different emotional expressions in humans, there remains no convincing answer.Ludwig Huber and Corsin Muller investigated this together with their colleagues at the University of Vienna. They presented the faces photos of angry and happy women’s faces adjacently on a touchscreen to twenty dogs.When they were in their training phase, the dogs from one of the groups were trained by the researchers to touch the images of all the happy faces. The other group of dogs was rewarded for recognizing the angry faces.To makes sure that the animals were not making decisions based on the visible differences between the two pictures, like frown lines or teeth, the researchers split up the images horizontally so that the dogs saw only the mouth region or the eye region during their training phase.Almost all the dogs that participated in the study learned to tell the difference between the angry and happy face halves. Subsequently, they also managed to identify the dominant mood in the novel faces and the face halves that they were not shown when they were in training.It is easier to approach a happy face
The dogs that were trained to choose the happy faces managed to master the task much faster compared to the dogs that were trained to pick out the angry faces. It is a clear indication that dogs do not like approaching people with an angry look on their face. The researchers speculate that the dogs tend to draw on their memory while performing this exercise.They tend to recognize the facial expressions that they have already stored in their memory. They also suggested that dogs that do not have any experience with humans will end up performing worse or could also end up leaving the task unfinished.The visual abilities of dogs are underestimated
It is a universally proven and accepted fact that dogs have a much better sense of hearing and smell compared to humans. However, the spatial resolution in their vision is seven times lower than that of human beings. Because of this factor, it was virtually unknown that dogs can recognize the visible emotions on the human face.To understand the development of this skill, the researchers also plan to study wolves at their Wolf Science Center. Huber and his team have spent the past three years studying whether dogs can understand the emotions of people or of conspecifics. The research sheds more light on dog cognition and behavior. It also goes to show how little we know about our canine companions.