Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Your Dog Can (Probably) Read Your Mind

Your Dog Can (Probably) Read Your Mind

The Debrief: Researchers from University of Pisa say they have discovered the reason why dogs can show empathy

Everyone says that dogs are ‘man’s best friend’, but now we know that it’s actually true. How? Because scientists have said so

A team of Italian researchers believe that they have made a breakthrough into understanding just how dogs seem to be able to show empathy.

Dog lovers across the world already suspected this, of course, but now there’s proof. According to scientists from the University of Pisa, dogs are so clever that they can show empathy and even tune into the moods of their owners. 

Have you ever wondered how your pooch just seems to instinctively know that you’ve broken up with someone so you need them to sit with you, or that you’re feeling under the weather and need a living hot water bottle, or, even, that you’re about to go away for a couple of weeks and they should sit in your suitcase in an attempt to try and stop you?

Apparently human beings mirror the emotional expression of other human beings when we are experiencing empathy with them: if they’re sad we’ll look concerned, if they’re happy we’ll reflect that back at them and if someone's laughing you quite often find yourself laughing too.  

The researchers believe that dogs are able to rapidly mimic or ‘catch’ emotions, and that dogs possess what they call a key ‘building-block of empathy’, because they can mimic the behaviour of other dogs. 

The research, undertaken in a park in Palermo, observed 49 dogs as they played together. They found that the dogs rapidly copied and mimicked one another, especially when they were being playful. 

They also found that, the better the dogs knew each other, happened more often when the dogs knew each other better. So, if the dog was catching up with his best mate, who he runs into on his walk every day, then obviously he was quick to pick up on what sort of mood his best mate was in. 

Dr Elisabetta Palagi, the lead researcher on the project, told the Daily Mail: ‘Mimicry is important for emotional sharing. The more animals are friends, the more they engage in rapid sharing.’

Apparently further research is required to work out the exact relationship between humans and dogs, because, obviously, we have very different facial muscles. But Dr Palagi says ‘mimicry is particularly frequent between dogs who are friends. I’m confident dogs can in some sense ‘catch’ the emotion of humans, not all humans, but especially their owners because they know them well’.

She also added, ‘I wouldn’t expect to find mimicry in cats. Dogs are a social species, while cats descend from a solitary species.’

So, there you have it. The next time your dog gives you that knowing look, it really does know how you’re feeling…maybe. And, cats really are giving you the cold shoulder. 

 

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Tags: Science Says, Animals