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Can dogs really recognize human emotional expressions?

Have you experience crying and then your pet dog suddenly comes to you try to pacify you with a lick on your face? Many pet dog owners believe that their dogs have the ability to detect certain human emotional expressions, for instance, sadness.

According to Dr. Patty Khuly, a veterinarian from Florida, dogs lick people as a sign of affection (1). Thus, a dog’s lick on the face of a sad owner might indicate the dog’s ability to recognize sadness. There were also news reported about dogs saving their owners’ life from an attempted suicide. One of them was a dog who was aptly regarded as a hero for successfully preventing a troubled 13-year old girl from committing suicide in Chengdu, Sichuan province in China. The yellow-haired dog, named Roman, dragged the teenage girl by her shirt when the girl was nearing the edge of the roof of a three-story apartment building and attempting to jump. The canine kept pulling her away from the edge until firemen were able to rescue her (2). According to LifeWithDogs site, dogs can even take it a step further and potentially diagnose rare and fatal diseases that their owners carry, such as cancer. In an article by published by Melanie of LifeWithDogs, a dog actually was able to diagnose cancer and save the life of its owner. These stories may not be enough proof of the ability of dogs to recognize human emotional expressions. However, Ludwig Huber and his research team in University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna’s Messerli Research Institute recently published their findings in the Cell Press journal Current Biology (4) where they claim that their discovery is the first solid evidence implicating the ability of dogs to detect and discriminate between happy and angry human faces. Not only were they able to observe the ability of dogs to discriminate faces of people they know well but they were able to do so on those they had not seen before. Nevertheless, their findings are not yet thorough and therefore would require further studies to gain more insight into such ability of dogs to recognize certain human emotional expressions.

(1) Khuly, P. (2011). “Why Does My Dog… Always Lick Me?” Retrieved from
(2) Li Yan. (2014). “Dog saves girl from suicide attempt”. China News Service. Retrieved from
(3) Melanie. (2015). “Dogs Are the Best Therapy.” Retrieved from
(4) Cell Press. (2015, February 12). Dogs know that smile on your face.ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 7, 2015

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