A DogGeek.com exclusive by Teresa Barker
Have you ever been told, “You look sad?” Well, it’s not just your friends who can see it on your face, your pooch knows too! We’ve all felt that our dogs can sense what kind of mood we are in, but now one of the ways in which they determine this has been proven. A study performed by Dr. Kin Guo of the University of Lincoln in the UK has found that dogs really can read our facial expressions.
The “left-gaze bias”
Dogs, humans, and even monkeys, exhibit a behavior called “left-gaze bias” when they encounter faces. It has been proven that dogs, especially, use this assessment process when they encounter human faces. In his studies, Dr. Guo presented the dogs in his study with images of dog faces, human faces, monkey faces, and inanimate objects. When human faces were present, dogs used what as known as left-gaze bias when studying the image.
So how does it work?
Well, to start, the human face is more expressive on the right side than the left. So when faced with a face head-on (pun intended) a dog will shift its head to use the left eye more than the right, to view the right side of the human’s face. The information brought in from the left visual field is processed on the right side of the dog’s brain, which is better equipped to interpret human facial expression. Whew. Dr. Guo has the details from the study which he performed on 17 dogs, if you want to go deeper, but here’s a study you can perform right at home with your own dogs.
First, make sure that you have your dog’s attention in a non-forceful way. Next, make eye contact with a neutral, non-expressive face. Finally, give a wildly-excited, dramatic happy face (like you do with infants to try to get them to smile) without any words or sounds. See if your dog starts to wag his tail. I bet after a few rounds of this home study, you will be unable to stifle your laughter, and your dog will be licking your face. That’s official enough for me!