The ability to interpret canine facial expressions could facilitate greater ease and safety when working closely with dogs. This study was performed to determine whether humans could identify canine facial displays from photographs.
One well-trained police dog served as the model, and 10 photographs were produced for each of 6 human-associated emotions (ie, happy, sad, surprise, disgust, anger, fear, neutrality) evoked by stimuli (eg, ball, verbal reprimand, bitter medication). In the study’s first phase, 3 behavior experts confirmed the accuracy of the emotion displayed in the photographs by ranking them. The top-ranked photographs were used in the second phase, examining whether experienced and inexperienced subjects could judge the expected emotional states and identify the conditions under which the photographs were taken.
Results indicated that human ability to identify communicative signaling in canine facial expressions was above chance responding, with little difference between experience levels. Most subjects consistently identified happiness, sadness, anger, and fear in the appropriate photos; surprise and disgust proved more difficult. Experienced individuals performed well in identifying the behaviorally defined situations but were worse than inexperienced individuals at identifying anger.