Happy Dogs and Fearful Dogs

matching_dog_x_exprncI just came across another interesting article published in PLOS One that I thought many readers would like. The researchers from Columbia University in New York were looking at peoples’ ability to read the body language of dogs. In particular, the study looked at people with differing levels of experience with dogs from participants with very little (i.e., never lived with a dog) to participants with more than 10 years professional working experience with dogs, and their skill at identifying either a happy dog or a fearful dog.

Each of the study’s participants were shown several video examples of both happy and fearful dogs. When it came to happy dogs, there were no statistical differences between the experience groups. They all correctly identified the happy dogs around 90% of the time. For the fearful dog examples, experience played a major role in determining the participants’ success. Low experience participants were correct only about 30% of the time compared to 70% in the professional experience groups.

The researchers also asked the participants to indicate what sources of information they used to make their decisions. More experienced participants used more sources on average than less experienced participants and more specifically, those with more experience relied frequently on the dogs ears, a source not frequently used by those with little experience with dogs.

I’m sure many of you interact frequently with people who are new to the dog world either through dog sport demonstrations or as a dog obedience instructor for puppy classes. With that in mind I think that this research paper highlights the importance of teaching people how to read their dog’s body language. It’s not something that is innate, but a skill that needs to be learned.

You can find the original article here. The reference is below.

Wan M, Bolger N, Champagne FA (2012) Human Perception of Fear in Dogs Varies According to Experience with Dogs. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51775. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051775

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