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Dogs can tell when their Owners are Angry, Study Says

Update Date: Jan 30, 2016 10:15 AM EST

Dogs have learned how to deal with angry owner expressions, a new study is claiming. According to the researchers, dogs will avoid eye contact if their owners appear to be upset.

For this study, the team at the University of Helsinki in Finland recruited 31 dogs from 13 breeds and trained them to sit down in front of a video screen. The researchers showed the dogs three different images: a neutral one, a threatening one and a pleasant one of humans and other dogs for 1.5 seconds each. Cameras were used to tract the canines' eye movements.

The team found that when dogs looked at human faces, they tended to avert their gaze if the expression was angry. Researcher Sanni Somppi concluded that dogs must have learned how to submissively deal with threatening signs from a human. Instead of creating conflict, dogs would rather appease their owners, which can help them develop a better bond with their human counterparts.

"The tolerant behavior strategy of dogs toward humans may partially explain the results. Domestication may have equipped dogs with a sensitivity to detect the threat signals of humans and respond to them with pronounced appeasement signals," Somppi said in a university news release reported by HealthDay.

The researchers noted that when dogs looked at human faces, their eyes scanned the entire face as opposed to one area of the face. This type of eye movement suggests that dogs will look at multiple areas of the face to interpret an emotion.

When dogs looked at threatening faces of other dogs, however, they tended to focus on the mouth area, presumably to look for another sign of a threat.

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

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