Why Dogs Can Tell When Their People Are Happy

Duke: Happy dogs happy tails

Duke: Happy dogs happy tails

As a long time dog owner I have had the opportunity to observe them up close and personal, and there is far more to our canine friends than meets the eye.  They don’t just eat, sleep, poop and bark.  Their bodies twist with delight, and their eyes sparkle when they’re happy, and that happiness is often based on our body language and mood.

A first-of-its-kind study of dogs suggests that their brains are wired to key in on vocal sounds from humans and process our emotional states, reports Wired. The mutts then respond accordingly. Hungarian researchers used brain scans to show that a certain area of the dogs’ brains light up when they hear sounds made by humans or other dogs. In fact, their brains show more activity for these types of sounds—especially “emotionally positive” ones—than for non-vocal sounds such as breaking glass, reports Smithsonian. It sums things up thusly: “It’s unclear what’s exactly going on in the dogs’ minds when they hear these noises, but this suggests that dogs can distinguish a happy voice from a sad one.”

It’s especially intriguing because the area of the brain that fires up is the same as that in human brains when processing vocal sounds, reports the BBC. This is the first time such a similarity has been found in a non-primate species, raising the possibility that it’s common among all mammals. If so, it could partly explain why mammals have been evolutionary rock stars, relatively speaking. At the very least, it sheds light on why people and their pooches bond so well. “It appears that there is a similar mechanism that processes social information in both dogs and humans,” says the study’s lead author. “We think this might be able to explain what makes vocal communication between the two species so effortless and successful.”

(Click to read about a separate study that suggests dogs and cats can see things invisible to the human eye.)

Many thanks to Newser for story contributions.

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Posted by on February 22, 2014. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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42 Responses to Why Dogs Can Tell When Their People Are Happy

  1. bitcodavid

    February 22, 2014 at 11:54 am

    To any dog owner, this is not news. We are often accused of anthropomorphizing our dogs, but I’ve seen countless instances of human-like intelligence over decades of sharing my life with fur-people.

    • Michael John Scott

      February 22, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      Me too David, and you would think that, as James mentioned, all dog owners would know this, but they do not. See my comment to him 🙂

  2. James Smith

    February 22, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Only this morning, I received a version of this very report from a friend in Phoenix (the one to the right of Genghis Khan). He’s a long-time owner and fan of Airdales and has participated in an Airdale rescue league. (Not all right-wingers are totally bad)

    He said the same thing, “Any dog owner could have told them that.”

    I wondered to him and here. Was there tax money spent on what is common knowledge anyway?

    • Michael John Scott

      February 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      I disagree that it’s common knowledge James. There are millions of dog owners who are convinced that dogs are unintelligent, soulless creatures that are only good when raising kids or trying to keep away bad guys.

      • James Smith

        February 22, 2014 at 1:04 pm

        I agree. I’ve personally seen dog owners that are so unaware of their dogs (and sadly, their children) that they haven’t a clue. Mostly, they are an exception, so the knowledge is pretty common.

  3. Marsha Woerner

    February 22, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    And yet, there is an advantage to spending tax money on such “frivolous” studies: it changes the results from anecdotal to research based. I know it still sounds frivolous to a lot, but to any scientist or science minded person, there is a DISTINCT advantage to the latter! Furthermore, it’s a bragging point to all 🙂

    • Michael John Scott

      February 22, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      It doesn’t sound at all frivolous to me either Marsha. When anecdotes become evidence we have a foundation, and not just a story about one.

  4. James Smith

    February 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I agree that “frivolous” research that uncovers previously unknown facts often turns out to be useful in ways no one could have suspected. It is always better to know than to not know.

    Still, money spent on what is and has been obvious for a long time might be better invested in education, healthcare, or other services; even (gasp) basic research.

    • Michael John Scott

      February 22, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      To the Hungarians that conducted the research it was important. Understanding what we don’t completely understand is always important. Secondly, the research was privately, not publicly funded so I guess it’s their choice on how to spend it. I congratulate them, and their research. It’s nice to have scientific support for what I’ve long “suspected.”

  5. bitcodavid

    February 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    OK, Humans. Let me clear this up for you. We can get just about everything you guys do. We can tell when you’re drunk, stoned, happy, sad and especially, when you’re pissed. We understand why you need to leave us every day, and why you look so beaten down and miserable, when you come back. We totally dig that the dog in the mirror won’t hurt us – although he really wishes he could. We’re hip to the fact that the evil mailman is trying to murder us all in our beds. In fact, the only thing about Humans that we dogs can’t comprehend is why you save up all your best stuff all week long, only to haul it out onto the sidewalk for the men in the big trucks to steal.

    –Jack (Lab-Chow – BitcoDavid’s owner)

  6. Bill Formby

    February 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Actually, folks, if you stop and think about all the things that we (meaning humans) have found that dogs are capable of doing (service dogs, military dogs, police dogs, drug dogs, dogs that can detect certain types of cancer, dogs that can sense emotions, the fact caring for dogs can be therapeutic, to mention some) my question is why are dogs not elevated to a higher level of care in society? I really believe that dogs can be a best friend and companion, but they may have uses in the world that yet to be determined. Think about it, if dogs had thumbs would they even need us?

  7. James McNulty

    February 23, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    There are loads of dogs on my street and they don’t seem to care whether I am happy or not. They bark all day long and if someone doesn’t deal with it I am throwing over some poisoned meat. I have absolutely had it with them. Someone told me warfarin will do the trick, I am sick of it

    • James Smith

      February 23, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      Having a polite, quiet word with the owners is not an option for you? Or is being polite and reasonable not your style?

      If the nice talk with the owners is not productive, there are other steps you can take. For example, notifying the police of a public nuisance.

      Unilaterally deciding to kill the animals is not a solution you will like in the end. You can find yourself with more problems than barking dogs.

    • Michael John Scott

      February 24, 2014 at 8:56 am

      Killing the dogs isn’t a solution, but a crime. Don’t blame the dogs, blame the owners and your community for allowing dogs to run at large.

    • Jess

      February 24, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      Instead of going all vigilante you could probably contact the county you live in to talk to the people that have the barking dogs to help quiet them. Tell you what, if someone threw poisoned meat at my animals and they died from it, a boot to the ass would be the last thing they should worry about. How can you live with yourself saying you would kill an animal for doing what an animal does to get attention.

      • Michael John Scott

        February 25, 2014 at 5:31 pm

        I suspect this guy could care less about animals Jess, particularly dogs. Someone who respects and cares for dogs wouldn’t even consider doing such a thing.

        • Jess

          February 25, 2014 at 7:08 pm

          My dogs have been driving me crazy with their barking lately. I sat them down and told them if they didn’t stop, I was going to set their asses up with a shock collar. I won’t, but my husband thought it was hysterical when I had them nicely sitting in front of me and I was lecturing them. I thought he was going to burst something the way he was laughing at me for lecturing them like they were kids that needed a time out in the corner 🙂

          • James Smith

            February 25, 2014 at 7:12 pm

            The important thing is, did they all nod their heads sagely then go on about their business as if you hadn’t said a word? If so, you’re in good company. That’s exactly how my dogs act.

            • Jess

              February 26, 2014 at 1:32 am

              Nah they did that thing where they put their head to one side, flop the ears and look at you like you just got horns on your head. Funny thing was my cats sitting there like statues, watching it as if to say oh doggies you are in trouble with her now and it wasn’t us this time. When I give the cats in trouble they get that Puss in boots from Shrek big eye like that will sway me from giving them a talking to. Like that does anything with cats.

  8. James McNulty

    February 24, 2014 at 5:15 am

    I don’t think you understand, James. I am sick to death of those dogs, they behave like animals. I want to see the end of them. I don’t think it unreasonable to act in this way: the owners will be to blame for this. I might throw the owners some meat too.

    I would rather not get the police involved with this. They have dogs too so they will be biased.

    • James Smith

      February 24, 2014 at 5:52 am

      I do understand. You prefer angry and violent conflict to peaceful resolution. You would rather be an asshole than a decent human being.

      • James McNulty

        February 24, 2014 at 6:35 am

        You speak of peaceful resolution yet you call me an ‘asshole’.

        You bark worse than the dogs on my street, James! Let’s hope you have better breath than those dogs but looking at your avatar I doubt it.

        • James Smith

          February 24, 2014 at 6:43 am

          I did not “call” you an asshole. I said you would rather be an asshole than a decent human being. If the shoe fits… On you, it obviously does.

        • bitcodavid

          February 24, 2014 at 8:10 am

          James, You’re looking to get some enemies on this list. You’d be much better off posting your thoughts on http://www.ihatedogs.com than on MM’s America. Bunch of dog lovers here. Now, you’re idea of poisoning the owners, I can live with. But you hurt one dog…

          • bitcodavid

            February 24, 2014 at 8:13 am

            Double oops. That was supposed to reply to James McNulty, not James Smith. Also, I don’t think the link is real, I didn’t intend it actually create the hyperlink. What happened to the “edit” thingy?

            • Michael John Scott

              February 24, 2014 at 8:54 am

              I had to suspend the edit thingy David because it was slowing down site loading times. I’ll get it fixed sooner or later and put it back.

              • bitcodavid

                February 24, 2014 at 9:32 am

                My secret will get out. People will start to realize I ain’t as brilliant as I’ve led them to believe. 🙂

                • James Smith

                  February 24, 2014 at 9:37 am

                  No worries, no one thinks you’re brilliant. 😀

                • Jess

                  February 24, 2014 at 7:37 pm

                  Not to worry. We’ve seen enough to know the truth of it all 🙂

          • James Smith

            February 24, 2014 at 9:19 am

            Good points. Threatening to poison the owners might be a felony, depending upon where he lives.

            Don’t worry about confusing us. The text of your post made it clear even to me. 😉

        • James Smith

          February 25, 2014 at 7:39 pm

          I don’t know why he is so upset. I am only agreeing with the description he gave of himself.

          Then an uninformed and unconformable comment about possible halitosis and a tiny picture only shows that he is not intelligent enough to think of anything reasonable and original. He’ll probably call me a fag next or a “libtard’.

    • Jess

      February 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm

      Um dogs behaving like animals. Who knew that could happen, with dogs even. Yeah, go ahead, throw the owners some meat that you poisoned and see how you like the confines of the grey bar hotel for murder.

  9. Chad Warwick Snr.

    February 24, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Are you guys seriously debating canine murder here? Now that really is weird. You know what you should do with this James McNulty guy? Geo-locate his IP and send the posse round. He needs a pistol whippin’ real bad.

    Anyone thinking of even looking at my dog funny will get my foot in his ass.

    • Chad Warwick Snr.

      February 24, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      Just to clarify: the person looking at my dog funny would get a foot in the ass, not if he was only looking at my dog’s ass but then he would definitely get my foot in his ass. Also, my dog’s name is not funny, I mean, his name is Fletcher which is sort of funny but his name is not: “Funny”, as in Funny the Dog.

      • Jess

        February 24, 2014 at 7:36 pm

        A foot in the ass would be the least of their problems if they came within 500 yards of my animals to cause them harm.

        • Chad Warwick Snr.

          February 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm

          No offense, Jess, but you look like you would enjoy a foot in the ass.

          • Jess

            February 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm

            Ah, you will never know what I do enjoy or don’t unless I speak about it in public. I don’t have many issues doing just that, but a fetish like that, not my style at all. No offense taken.

        • Michael John Scott

          February 25, 2014 at 5:30 pm

          Anyone messes with my animals and they’ll be seeing their Jeebus up close and personal.

          • Jess

            February 25, 2014 at 7:09 pm

            There would be a better chance they would see the ACME hammer coming down on them than seeing this Jeebus fellow, since both are pretend things. Just saying is all.

            • Michael John Scott

              February 25, 2014 at 7:46 pm

              Ayup. The ole ACME hammer. That crazy coyote’s worst best friend.

    • Michael John Scott

      February 24, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Same here Chad. Major animal lovers visiting this website.