Our dogs are tuned in to us. When we've had a bad day, they know to either come in for a snuggle or stay out of the way. When they've done something wrong, they seem to look guilty or simply disappear until we cool off.
And a new study from researchers at Brigham Young University finds that dogs may be even more tuned into our moods than we realize.
“We know that dogs are sensitive to our emotional cues,” said BYU psychology professor Ross Flom in a statement, “but we wanted to know: Do they use these emotional cues?”
Flom did two experiments to test how much dogs are paying attention. He watched how dogs followed a pointing gesture to find a reward. Like earlier studies, the results showed that dogs reliably follow pointing gestures. But this study found something even more interesting when the pointing was paired with positive or negative behaviors from the owners — either smiling and speaking in a pleasant tone or frowning, a furrowed brow and speaking in a harsh tone.
Flom found that positive behavior didn't increase a dog's response time in finding the treat when compared to the control group. However, he found that negative behavior — which simulated emotions tied to being angry — decreased how quickly the dog found the treat.
In both instances, the dogs eventually followed the pointing gesture, but the response was often significantly delayed when the speaker sounded angry.
Although that finding may be surprising, one of Flom's finding certainly isn't:
“There is a unique and special bond between humans and dogs,” he says.
Watch the video for a cute look at the study, which was published in the journal Animal Cognition: