Do Dogs Understand Humans?

All dog owners know that their beloved pets are quick to notice our moods and what we’re thinking. But how do they do that? This question is the object of much scientific research. A study from England shows that dogs are probably pretty good at reading facial expressions. When humans look at each other, we tend to look to the left or the other person’s right side, the reason being that this is the most expressive side of the face.

The British study shows that dogs tend to do the same. A total of 17 dogs were shown photographs of the faces of humans, monkeys, dogs, and unrelated objects. The dogs’ head- and eye motions were filmed while they looked at the photographs. It turned out that dogs look to the left when they look at human faces, but not when they look at other faces.

Scientists believe that dogs have developed this ability after thousands of years of cohabitating with humans, as a useful way of understanding our moods. This idea is confirmed by studies of wolves. Wolves don’t care much about human faces whatsoever and aren’t good at reading the signals we send out. They can’t understand the meaning of a hand pointing towards an object, whereas dogs are good at calculating which humans they should beg for treats. They are more inclined to interact with humans who look at them than humans looking the other way or with their eyes covered.

Dogs can also make mental images of people they have a close relationship with, according to Japanese scientists. They placed the dogs about one meter from a computer screen that was hidden behind a curtain. Then the dogs got to hear the voice of their owner and a stranger via a speaker that said the dogs’ name four times. Then the curtain came down and the dogs were shown a photograph of either their owner or a stranger. The dogs were filmed the entire time.

When they heard the voice of a stranger, but saw a photograph of their owner, they looked at the photograph longer than when it matched the voice. This indicates that the dogs understood that something was off. The scientists therefore believe that dogs expect to see their owner when they hear their voice.

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