Accuracy of canine vs. human emotion identification: impact of dog ownership and belief in animal mind

Roxanne D. Hawkins*, Bianca D.M. Hatin, Eszter O. Révész

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Humans are adept at extrapolating emotional information from the facial expressions of other humans but may have difficulties identifying emotions in dogs. This can increase risk for compromised dog and human welfare. Experience with dogs, and beliefs in animal minds, may influence interspecies emotional communication, yet limited research has investigated these variables. In this study, participants (n = 122 adults) were asked to identify human and dog emotional facial expressions (happiness, fearfulness, anger/aggression) through an online experimental emotion recognition task. Experience with dogs (through dog ownership and duration of current dog ownership), emotion attribution (through beliefs about animal mind), and demographics were also measured. Results showed that fear and happiness were more easily identified in human faces, whereas aggression was more easily identified in dog faces. Duration of current dog ownership, age, and gender identity did not relate to accuracy scores, but current dog owners were significantly better at identifying happiness in dog faces than non-dog owners. Dog ownership and duration of ownership related to increased beliefs about, and confidence in, the emotional ability of dogs. Additionally, belief in animal sentience was positively correlated with accuracy scores for identifying happiness in dogs. Overall, these exploratory findings show that adult humans, particularly current dog owners and those who believe in the emotionality of dogs, can accurately identify some basic emotions in dogs but may be more skilled at identifying positive than negative emotions. The findings have implications for preventing negative human-animal interactions through intervention strategies that target animal emotionality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalHuman-Animal Interaction Bulletin
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2022


  • belief in animal mind
  • dog ownership
  • emotions
  • facial expressions
  • human-dog interactions


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