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Dogs Don't Trust Angry People

Dogs respond more slowly to angry people.

Most people who have spent any time around dogs know that they seem to understand humans' emotions.

A recent study confirmed this to be true but also showed that it goes a step further: dogs respond differently to angry people than they do to calm ones.

Study Structure

In a recent study done by Brigham Young University researchers, dogs were directed by a human's pointing gesture to explore a hidden area to find a treat (Ross Flom, 2016). Dogs were quite reliable in responding to the pointing gesture and following it.

Next, people gave the dogs pointing instructions while using happy emotional cues such as smiles and upbeat voices. Then, they directed the dogs by pointing to the hidden spots while using angry emotional cues such as frowns and harsh voices.

The dogs followed the humans' pointing cues reliably in each situation. However, they were slower to explore the hidden area when the person used angry facial expressions and voices. The dogs showed that not only are they sensitive to humans' moods, but they use them to dictate their own behavior.

The Takeaway

This study, in some ways, tells us what many dog lovers already know: dogs can determine differing human moods. They also use our moods to determine their response time to our commands. This can be useful to know in at least two common situations that dog owners face:

  • Humans often interpret certain behaviors that dogs show as guilt when, in reality, they are probably submissive behaviors in response to their human's anger or irritation. An example is when you find a mess in the house upon arriving home. You feel irritation and look at your dog. He drops his head and tucks his tail in submission, which you interpret as an admission of guilt when, in reality, it is likely that it is a response to your anger.
  • Dogs respond more quickly to happy humans, so if you're trying to get your dog to come back to you when he's escaped, do your best to smile and sound positive. Also, if you are training your dog, using irritated or angry body language and voice pitch will slow down your dog's response time considerably. Save training time for when you are feeling good and end it before you become irritated.

Works Cited

  1. Ross Flom, P. G. (2016, March). Does affective information influence domestic dogs' (Canis lupus familiaris) point-following behavior? Retrieved from Springer Link: DOI: 10.1007/s10071-015-0934-5.

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