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Man's best friend even more tuned in than we first thought

By Claire McNeilly

Published 02/02/2016

Our canine pals can have their moods influenced by music
Our canine pals can have their moods influenced by music

It's official... dogs really are man's best friend. They yawn when we do, show sensitivity when we cry and are dab hands at wounded innocence when accused of being naughty.

New research has shown that dogs are the only animals capable of reading the emotions of another species, and possessing cognitive abilities previously not known to exist beyond humans.

Our canine pals can even have their moods influenced by music, according to Queen's University psychologist Deborah Wells, one of the world's foremost experts in dog behaviour.

She recently conducted an experiment where she exposed dogs in an animal shelter to different genres of music, with surprising results.

"It is well established that music can influence our moods," Dr Wells said.

"Classical music, for example, can help to reduce levels of stress.

"It is now believed that dogs may be as discerning as humans when it comes to musical preference."

Following a separate study, scientists at the universities of Lincoln and Sao Paulo discovered that dogs of various breeds could match voices to faces expressing the same emotion.

They concluded that British pets could tell whether strangers speaking a foreign language - in this case Portuguese or Brazilian - were cheerful or upset.

The researchers also believe that dogs have acquired a deep-rooted ability for picking out the nuances in their master's voice.

Tests were carried out on 17 adult dogs, including three labradors, two collies and a deerhound. Researchers showed them pairs of black and white pictures of the happy or unhappy faces of police dogs and drama students, while playing recordings of playful or aggressive barks and people speaking in an upbeat or angry tone.

The scientists measured the amount of time the dogs spent staring at each face and discovered they were much more likely to look at the portrait that matched the emotion in the voice.

The study concluded that although the dogs were better at recognising the feelings of other dogs, they also picked the correct human face more often than not.

The PhD student who led the experiment, Natalia Albuquerque, said it proved for the first time that dogs not only know the difference between their owners' facial expressions, they also link emotional signals from different senses.

Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at Lincoln, said he believed that domestication by humans might have led to dogs acquiring a basic emotional radar over tens of thousands of years of selective breeding. For example, a study by scientists at the University of Helsinki found that dogs would avoid eye contact if they detected that a human face was displaying anger.

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