Your Dog Can "Catch" Your Emotions, Proving That You Really Are In Sync

Most dog owners experience moments where their pup showcases human-like perception at an almost eerie level. While those of us with a furry best friend already knew dogs recognize your emotions, you may not know that dogs may end up feeling your emotions, too. A 2017 study found that joy really is contagious—even for your furry best friend.

Your Happiness Is My Happiness

There's a growing body of research into the way dogs empathize with humans. We already know that dogs can take on their owners' personalities, know when we're lying, and even lie to us. There's even some research into the concept of "emotional contagion" in dogs, or the phenomenon where one individual's emotions affects the emotions of another: a 2014 study found that dogs react similarly to humans when they hear a baby cry, and a 2016 study found that they show concern when they hear a whine from a dog friend. But this 2017 study, conducted by the Clever Dog Lab at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, went further. Instead of just seeing if dogs were affected by the negative emotions of others, it sought to determine three different things: how dogs reacted differently to emotional versus non-emotional sounds, human versus dog sounds, and positive versus negative emotional sounds.

For the study, the researchers assembled 53 dogs and their owners, then played them different recordings over a series of experiments. They noted the dogs' behavioral change when listening to emotional sounds of both species, such as humans laughing and crying and dogs barking and whining. As a control, the researchers played neutral sounds like crickets or rain. They found that dogs reacted completely differently to the neutral sounds than they did to the emotive sounds—they spent more time looking at the loudspeaker the emotional sounds were coming from, and demonstrated more negative reactions like whining, yawning, and freezing in place. Likewise, dogs showed many more negative behaviors when hearing negative emotional sounds from both humans and dogs than they did positive sounds, suggesting that they can tell the difference between happy and sad sounds. Interestingly, there wasn't much of a difference between their reactions to the human and dog sounds—your dog treats you like a great big dog, just like you've always suspected.

An Unbreakable Bond

This is one more piece of evidence showing how incredibly attuned dogs are with their human companions. And it makes a lot of sense—we literally evolved together, so it would make sense that there's some overlap in the emotional toolboxes inside our brains. But the result of this study isn't just good news for you and your dog. It's also good news for dog welfare as a whole. If we know scientifically that dogs feel negative emotions when they see negative emotions in others, it can inform the way we care for them. That means happier dogs all around.

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Written by Mike Epifani May 5, 2017

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