Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Do negative facial expressions impact dogs?

sad dog

Image by, via Wikimedia Commons

As a dog owner, it seems to me as if my canine pal understands when I am happy or mad. But, is that seeming awareness due to my facial expressions or the tone of my voice?

In a new study published in Behavioural Processes, researchers at the University of Lincoln and University of Sao Paulo attempted to unravel this mystery of how angry or happy human facial expressions might make dogs feel. The researchers showed dogs images of human faces with happy or angry expressions. When the dogs were shown angry facial expressions they were more likely to quickly lick their mouths. The type of lick they observed was not the same as you might experience when a dog is greeting an owner with a lick across the face, or when the dog sees or smells food. The type of quick lick they observed is considered a subtle indication of stress.

This research confirms what many dog-owners already suspected, dogs really do understand our emotions sometimes.


Albuquerque N, Guo K, Wilkinson A, Resende B, Mills DS. 2018. Mouth-licking by dogs as a response to emotional stimuli. Behavioural Processes, 146, 42—45.

Categories: Intelligence and Neuroscience, Pets, Stress

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