Research on human-dog emotional understanding

Researchers at the School of Life Sciences and Psychology, University of Lincoln, recruited participants over 2017, to take part in a study which focussed on relationships between humans and dogs, and how emotion is perceived between the two species.

The School of Life Sciences researchers involved were Cátia C. Caeiro (Postgraduate researcher) and Prof. Daniel Mills.

Participants were invited to watch a series of short videos which displayed the faces of both people and dogs, whilst a camera recorded their eye movements. After watching each video, the participants were then asked to try and recognise the emotions displayed on each face, along with a final task of completing a short survey about themselves and their experience of dogs.

It is hoped that the findings will help identify how humans and dogs read each other’s emotions, in what continues to be a very successful and long-lasting interspecific relationship.

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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.”


Live debate on understanding emotions in dogs

Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine, is taking part in a live online debate on measuring and interpreting emotions in dogs.

Professor Mills, will be joined by Linda Keeling, Professor of Animal Welfare at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, for the debate on Sentience Mosaic at 2pm on 6th November.

Sentience Mosaic is part of Animal Mosaic – the largest online community of people working to protect animals around the world.

Humans and dogs share a long history; dogs are considered the first animals to be domesticated. It is believed that humans and domestic dogs have co-habited for more than 10,000 years.

In recent years, research has shown that dogs have similar brain mechanisms to humans when processing social information, particularly emotive sounds such as a baby crying.

Other research has demonstrated that dogs have evolved to read and understand human facial expressions.

Many owners believe that they can tell how their dog is feeling, but sometimes this is inaccurate.

Professor Mills and Professor Keeling will share their expertise in measuring emotional responses in dogs.

Once the discussion starts people can post their questions/comments here or questions can be sent in advance, to


Measuring and understanding mood in animals

Dr Oliver Burman with Riley
Dr Oliver Burman with Riley

As our knowledge of animal behaviour and cognition grows, we are becoming more effective at assessing animal welfare.

Dr Oliver Burman, Senior Lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, was recently awarded a substantial grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to develop a new approach that will advance understanding in the field, particularly in respect to how we measure the moods and emotions of animals.Dr Burman is examining how animals respond to unexpected changes in the quality or quantity of rewards. Through this research, Dr Burman hopes to demonstrate that the way in which animals respond to unexpected changes can be influenced by their affective state, with animals with a more ‘positive outlook’ being faster to recover from surprising decreases in reward quantity.

The project is funded for three years, with a research team lead by Dr Burman including a post-doctoral research fellow (Dr Sarah Ellis) and a research technician.