Dogs mouth-lick to communicate with angry humans

Animal behaviour researchers in the UK and Brazil have found that dogs lick their mouths as a response to angry human faces, according to a new study.

Scientists examined the behaviour of dogs in response to emotionally significant images and sounds, and found that mouth licking in domestic dogs is not simply a response to food or uncertainty, but appears to be used as a signal to try to communicate with humans in response to visual cues of anger.

Significantly, audio cues of angry human voices did not elicit the same response.

Dogs were exposed simultaneously to two facial expressions (one positive and one negative from the same individual), which could be either human or canine of either sex, along with a sound, which could be positive or negative from the same species and gender.

The findings, published in the scientific journal Behavioural Processes, shine new light on our understanding of the emotional world of dogs.

The research was conducted by researchers from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the University of Lincoln, UK.

Lead author Natalia Albuquerque from the University of Sao Paulo, said: “Mouth-licking was triggered by visual cues only (facial expressions). There was also a species effect, with dogs mouth-licking more often when looking at humans than at other dogs. Most importantly, the findings indicate that this behaviour is linked to the animals’ perception of negative emotions.”

The researchers believe that this behavioural trait may have been selected during domestication. The findings, combined with previous evidence of the cognitive processing of emotional expressions, suggest that dogs may have a functional understanding of emotional information and greatly increase our understanding of their emotional world.

Co-author Professor Daniel Mills of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: “Humans are known to be very visual in both intra and inter-specific interactions, and because the vision of dogs is much poorer than humans, we often tend to think of them using their other senses to make sense of the world. But these results indicate that dogs may be using the visual display of mouth-licking to facilitate dog-human communication in particular.”


Cat owners invited to take part in our School’s research

Researchers at the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, are inviting cat owners to take part in groundbreaking research. 

Due to the enigmatic nature of this species, detecting pain in cats reliably is inherently challenging, limiting our capacity to be able to quickly and efficiently treat cats in need.

The Understanding Cat Pain Project is working to better understand and improve on our ability to detect some of the subtle signs of pain expression in cats.

The project, involving the School of Life Sciences’ Dr Lauren Finka and Prof Daniel Mills, aims to collect data on people’s ability to identify whether a cat is in pain or not, based on their facial expression.

If you would like to participate, please complete the following training task and quiz online.


Calling all dogs

Dogs are hugely important to the research activities of the world-leading animal behaviour team at the University of Lincoln, UK.

And your dog can be a part of their pioneering and welfare-friendly investigations in canine behaviour, from learning to use a touch screen to assessing its olfactory abilities or ability to read human emotion.

If you own one or more dogs and are able to travel to the Riseholme Park campus (just north of Lincoln), the University’s Animal Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare team would like to invite you to join their database of pet owners.

Your pet may get to take part in a wide range of activities, perhaps even being trained a new skill.

Projects undertaken by the University have worldwide significance in progressing our understanding of dogs and have featured on programmes such as BBC’s Horizon and in the news as far afield as The New York Times.

Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine, who has supervised many of the research projects, explains why the team wants to encourage owners and their dogs to get involved.

He said: “As interest in our work has grown, with increasing national and international coverage in the press and on TV, we thought the time was right to reach out further to the local community, to give them the chance to get more involved in our work. Many owners thoroughly enjoy learning about the hidden abilities of their dogs, or simply doing something a bit different. This is a great example of how the University likes to engage with the public, for mutual benefit.”

If you and your dog are potentially interested in taking part in exciting and ground-breaking research or other activities taking place at the University of Lincoln, please visit the website Lincoln Pets Can Do to sign up to the database or for more information or call 01522 886276.

All information provided for the database is securely stored with strictly limited access. Your details are not passed on to any third parties.

Crucial review on “shock collars” for pets led by Professor Daniel Mills

The arguments for and against the use of Electric Pulse Training Aids (EPTAs) on pets have been published in a report led by Professor Daniel Mills.

The review by the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) looks at current scientific research and evidence from members of the public, with regards to the moral complexity surrounding EPTAs or “shock collars”.

Lead author Professor Mills, from the School of Life Sciences, said that people who support the use and those who are against it both have a real concern about dog welfare and want to do what is best for their pet.

Prof Mills, who is a CAWC committee member, said: “Sometimes it’s portrayed that people who use EPTAs are cruel and ignorant, but I don’t think that’s the case. People are genuinely looking for a solution to a potentially serious problem which impacts on their quality of life and that of others. For example, a dog that worries sheep can be devastating to a farmer’s business. But just keeping a dog on a lead the whole time when you live in the countryside is not good for the pet so that is why a solution needs to be found.”

It is estimated that around 300,000 “shock collars” are in use in the UK alone, and although the report notes that the devices can be used to inflict suffering there is insufficient evidence to indicate whether significant suffering is routinely the outcome of their use.

The full report is available at the CAWC website