Dogs read faces like humans do

The photo above depicts the pattern of canine social gazing identified in the study.

If you think your canine patients are sizing you up when you interact with them, you may be right, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland concluded that the social gazing behavior of domestic dogs resembles that of humans: dogs view facial expressions systematically, preferring the eyes but changing what they look at if there’s a threat. The study was published in PLOS ONE on Jan 13.

The researchers utilized eye gaze tracking to demonstrate how dogs view the emotional expressions of dog and human faces. Dogs looked first at the eye region and generally examined eyes longer than nose or mouth areas. Species-specific characteristics of certain expressions also attracted their attention although dogs appeared to base their perception of facial expressions on the whole face.

Threatening faces evoked more attention, which may be based on an evolutionary adaptive mechanism. Interestingly, dogs’ viewing behavior was also dependent on the depicted species: threatening dogs’ faces evoked longer looking but threatening human faces caused avoidance.

“The tolerant behavior strategy of dogs toward humans may partially explain the results. Domestication may have equipped dogs with a sensitivity to detect the threat signals of humans and respond to them with pronounced appeasement signals,” said researcher Sanni Somppi

Photo credit: Copyright © 2016 S. Somppi and 123rf®

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