It's adorable to witness when dogs love each other, from sloppily grooming the other's mug to wrestling and tussling on the floor. But do dogs and cats know whether their owners are happy or sad or mad or sick? It turns out that our canine and feline counterparts are rather in tune with our feelings, sensing a wide range of emotions from our face and auditory cues.
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In fact, dogs can process six emotions from people, including anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust, via their gaze and changes in their heart rate. When it comes to our health, some dogs have the ability to sniff out dangerous health conditions, like cancer.
When dogs love each other — and you
You know your dog follows your pointer finger when you direct him to clean up the yogurt that's smeared on the floor, but he's also capable of assessing human emotions based on what his super-powerful ears pick up. As part of a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers studied whether dogs could determine the difference between happy noises, like laughing; sad ones, like crying; and scary sounds, like screaming, simply by hearing these particular auditory clues. The results were compelling: The pups in the study were able to distinguish between joy, sadness, and fear by correctly turning their head so their brain could process these positive and negative feelings.
Cats recognize emotions too
Not to be left behind, cats are just as adept at picking up on our emotions as dogs, according to a recent report in the journal Animals. While researchers know that cats are aware of the ways both other cats and their human owners strive to communicate with them, the study built upon this foundation to learn whether cats can recognize actual emotions felt by their fellow kitties and people.
Once the data was collected, it revealed that cats are indeed capable of integrating both visual and aural cues to determine which emotion a person is feeling, and they seem to change their behavior to match the mood. It seems that cats can actually read the room in some cases.
Dogs and facial recognition
If you're in love, your dog may have an inkling. If you're mad, he's probably aware of this feeling too. A study in the journal Current Biology found that canines who have spent significant time in the company of humans are better able to tell which emotion is which (happiness or anger) based on the facial expressions they see. The research noted that not only can dogs tell the difference between these emotions but they know these feelings mean two distinct things, and they display this knowledge both for the faces of people they know and love and for those of complete strangers.
Dogs detecting cancer
As amazing as it may sound, some animals, such as Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and Australian shepherds, have noses that are so nuanced that they just might save your life. The reason this is possible has to do with the fact that cancerous cells emit a certain odor. Once the disease is advanced enough, even people can smell it, but at that point, it may be too late to treat it.
Enter the supreme sniffing ability of dogs. Because a canine's sense of smell is so powerful, some can find cancer at its earliest stages before it's had a chance to spread. They can even detect it in a person's exhaled breath.
Scientists are taking advantage of this biological trick and harnessing it to teach more and more dogs to learn how to pick up on cancer. As part of an eight-month training program, dogs are exposed to all kinds of human samples, including saliva, plasma, and urine and are then taught to distinguish between the healthy substances and those that are cancerous. With this incredible knowledge, certain undetectable cancers may soon be quickly revealed thanks to the simple sniff of a dog.
- Scientific Reports: Lateralized Behavior and Cardiac Activity of Dogs in Response to Human Emotional Vocalizations
- American Kennel Club: Research Shows Your Dog Can Hear When You’re Happy or Sad
- Animals: Emotion Recognition in Cats
- Current Biology: Dogs Can Discriminate Emotional Expressions of Human Faces
- Learning & Behavior: Orienting Asymmetries and Physiological Reactivity in Dogs’ Response to Human Emotional Faces
- American Kennel Club: Dogs Detecting Disease: Meet America’s Cancer-Sniffing Canines