You could earn SmartPoints on this page!SmartPoint Coin

January 9, 2012 at 3:16 PMComments: 4 Faves: 0

Dogs Can Read Non-Verbal Cues!

By Bri Luginbill More Blogs by This Author

Hello and welcome to another issue of The Kibble. This week in dog health news, we've got some interesting studies alluding to the idea that dogs can understand non-verbal communication.

I’ve always heard pet owners talk about how their dog can sense their emotions, and I feel like I’ve experienced that with my family’s pets. For instance, when I'm feeling sad, my parent’s dog, Zip, will sense that I'm upset and cuddle with me. Even when I'm just playing fetch with him I can tell that he's closely watching my every move. He watches my eye movement as well as my body movement to see what direction I'm going to throw the ball.

Now, a study has proved that dogs are in tune with our emotions and that they can sense non-verbal communication. They look at our eyes to try and figure out what we are feeling, according to a study published in Current Biology.

Pet owner, Crystal Knode, couldn’t agree more with the findings:

“She anticipates what is going to happen,” Knode said, explaining the behavior of her 9-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, “She watches and takes cues to figure out what I’m going to do and what I’m not going to do. Dogs are very attuned to body language and hand motions.”

Another study suggests that dogs are most receptive when someone makes eye contact with them and addresses them with a verbal command. Jozsef Topal, a Hungarian researcher, and his colleagues studied 29 canines. Each dog was shown a movie of a woman interacting with the audience. Sometimes the woman would stare at the dog, call out to him/her, then turn her head to stare at an object. Other times, the woman would only turn her head to stare at the object. The dogs responded the most when eye contact was made with them. Once eye contact had been established, they would follow her gaze to the object.

So, how have dogs learned to pick up on verbal cues? There are two schools of thought on this: The first is that dogs have evolved into sharing their lives with humans. Therefore, they've learned to read our body language through familiarity. Because of this dog-human interaction, dogs have gained new skills that support their social interactions with humans.

The second possibility is that dogs have always interacted in this exact fashion; it’s just the way they are. Deleta Jones a dog trainer lends her perspective on this theory:

“If you’ve ever watched dogs at a dog park, you’ve seen it. Within 30 seconds of the time they enter the park a huge amount of information has passed back and forth between the new dog and the ones already in the park. They’re exchanging looks, observing eyes and body posture. In seconds they know who is dominant and who is submissive.”

Dogs seem to be pretty good at sensing a person’s non-verbal communications according to all these studies and observations… what’s your take?


More from Bri Luginbill Others Are Reading


  • I swear that my dog knows when I'm thinking 'kennel' because he'll look at me and go right to it. I've worked hard with him and eye contact. When we play ball, I expect him to retrieve, release, sit, and then make eye contact before I'll throw it. Of course, he's staring at the stupid ball, right? If you just wait him out, he'll eventually look to your eyes for approval. Then you throw it.

    Wish it worked that way with kids!

  • I went to a conference a year or so ago and the main speaker was this insanely qualified scientist (seriously, every time someone asked her a question about some random science topic, she told us that she was on some committee that deals with that very topic!) She told us that the right side of humans' faces naturally shows more emotion than the left. So, subconsciously, we naturally look at the right side of the face of whoever we are talking to.

    She also said that DOGS are the only other animal they've discovered that naturally looks at the right side of humans' faces - so they are far more in tune with human emotions than, say, cats. (Sorry, couldn't help showing my bias :P)

    Man's best friend indeed! :)

  • That's funny Laura, because dogs have such expressive faces too. I can look at our dog and know he needs to potty. Not sure exactly what it is, but something in the way he looks. Same thing with hungry... you can just tell.

  • I don't know, I'm biased of course, and they are at varying intelligence levels, but I definitely feel like my cats can read how I'm feeling. In feng shui cats are supposed to be a huge boon to the home - they say they will naturally gravitate to area of bad feng shui to balance them. I feel like this is true - I mean, where do cats like to lay? Piles of laundry and papers, of course! And when I'm upset, they all seem to sense it and want to be by me. My cats are great! So there! :P.... ;)

Comment on the Smart Living Network

Site Feedback