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Home » Dogs with plainer faces make more facial expressions, study finds

Dogs with plainer faces make more facial expressions, study finds

The deep and unique relationship between humans and their domesticated canine companions has sparked intriguing research. Scientists at George Washington University propose that a dog's facial markings might hold a key to better understanding their communication. In a recent study published in the journal Animals, researchers from the GW Primate Genomics Lab discovered that dogs with simpler facial features – those with solid color or no markings – tend to exhibit more facial expressions when interacting with humans, as opposed to dogs with intricate facial patterns.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that people are quite adept at assessing their dogs' overall expressiveness. However, those who share their lives with dogs aged two to seven years old are particularly accurate in judging their pet's level of expressiveness if the dog has a plainer face.

The study's methodology involved over 100 dogs and their human companions. Participants were asked to capture their dogs in various scenarios, and the researchers employed a standardized coding system known as DogFACS to meticulously analyze each dog's behavior. Additionally, the team devised a new approach to evaluate and quantify facial markings and patterns on the dogs' faces. To enhance the study, participants filled out surveys that gathered demographic data about the dogs and assessed the participants' ability to interpret their pets' expressions.

The study's lead author, Courtney Sexton, discusses additional findings of interest that came out of their work and shares examples of how this research can improve canine-human communication and relationships. Credit: The George Washington University

The significance of these findings extends beyond dog enthusiasts, resonating with anyone who interacts with, coexists alongside, or resides in communities with canine friends.

Courtney Sexton, the study's lead author, emphasizes the practical implications: “As dogs become integral to human society, comprehending their modes of communication and enhancing our own interactions with them becomes crucial.” This insight holds relevance in contexts like animal shelters, interactions with working dogs, service animals, encounters in neighborhoods, and even casual visits to dog parks. Understanding dogs' intentions, emotions, and thoughts can immensely enrich both their and our experiences when sharing moments.

Moreover, the study highlights intriguing patterns regarding older dogs. These senior companions appear less expressive when communicating with humans. Sexton speculates that this might be attributed to the profound, well-established bond that develops over time between older dogs and their human companions. With a deeper connection, older dogs may require less effort to convey their messages effectively.

Additionally, the research team observed that working dogs or those with extensive training exhibit heightened expressiveness. This finding aligns with the demands of such relationships, where effective communication is pivotal. People engaging closely with these dogs tend to be more skilled at deciphering the subtleties of canine expressions.

Source: George Washington University

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