Dogs are our best friends for a reason. Sure, we may project some "human" traits on to our furry friends, but not all are unfounded. Here are some interesting and complex human emotions researchers have found that dogs display too.
University of California at San Diego did a study on dogs who exhibit signs of jealousy under different circumstances. One telling sign was when their owners showed affection towards an animatronic dog. When the animatronic dog moved its tail, whined, or barked, the dogs would attempt to position themselves between the fake dog and their owner, or even snap at the object in protest.
In one scientific journal, researchers videotaped 36 dogs individually, watching for signs of jealousy as their owners interacted with three different objects. One was a stuffed dog, another was a children's book, and the third was a plastic jack-o'-lantern. Overwhelmingly, most of the dogs displayed strong emotions of jealousy towards the fake dog, and less so with the other two objects. These findings show that dogs recognize the objects that may look most like them, and sensed it was a more "real" threat than the others.
In 2012, the Department of Psychology at the University of London developed a study in empathy with 18 domesticated dogs. During this study, they exposed the dogs to 20-second experiments with an unfamiliar person in the room. The person would either pretend to be upset, hum or talk casually with minimal inflections. According to the study, more dogs looked at, approached, and even touched these unfamiliar people while they were crying versus when they were humming or talking.
Jennifer Mayer, one of the researchers of the study, mentions the study findings. "If the dogs' approaches during the crying condition were motivated by self-oriented comfort-seeking, they would be more likely to approach their usual source of comfort, their owner, rather than the stranger. No such preference was observed. The dogs approached whoever was crying regardless of their identity. Thus they were responding to the person's emotion, not their own needs, which is suggestive of empathic-like comfort-offering behavior."
In 2011, Patricia Simonet was exploring the language of dogs. During her study, she discovered other key components to a dog's social being. Dogs understand a sense of fairness and boundaries when playing with other dogs. They create rules around playtime that show that when a dog has had enough and needs time to rest, they create a "safe place" for themselves to recuperate. During her research, she discovered that playing fetch with multiple dogs will show that when one is tired or thirsty, the other dogs will stop and wait for the dog to finish.
They also have a sense of role-reversal, Simonet continues, "They understand roles and how they change. For example, dogs switch from chaser to chasee without skipping a step. The chaser will sweep around to the side of the chasee, then move ahead while looking back over his shoulder. With a single glance, the chaser becomes the chasee."
They Understand Our Moods, Too
The MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest found that dogs can distinguish different moods through voice detection. Researchers trained 11 dogs to sit in MRI machines while playing different voice recordings showcasing different moods. The results showed that dogs process the sounds the same ways humans do, with neurons lighting up in different parts of the brain, which suggests that dogs can understand subtleties in voice tones.
Attila Andics from the MTA-ELTE study says, "Like people, dogs use simple acoustic parameters to extract out the feelings from a sound." Andics continues, "For instance, when you laugh, 'Ha ha ha,' it has short, quick pieces. But if you make the parts longer, 'Haaaa, haaaa, haaaa,' it starts to sound like crying or whining, which is what people — and dogs — pay attention to."