Fetching what the owner prefers? Dogs recognize disgust and happiness in human behaviour

Borbála Turcsán, Flóra Szánthó, Ádám Miklósi, Enikő Kubinyi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

25 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Research using the two-object choice paradigm showed that dogs prefer the object associated with the happy human emotion. However, they provided rather ambiguous results regarding the negative emotions. We assumed that differences between the dogs’ and owners’ interest towards the ‘negative’ object might be responsible for this. In our experiment, dogs observed their owner expressing different emotions towards two uniform plastic bottles. Five dog groups were tested based on the condition they received: (1) happy versus neutral, (2) happy versus disgust, (3) neutral versus disgust and (4–5) neutral vs neutral, as control groups. Contrary to previous studies using free choice paradigm, we used a task-driven approach. After the demonstration, the dogs had to retrieve one object to the owner. The dogs’ performance in the two neutral–neutral groups did not differ from the chance level. In contrast, subjects were able to distinguish between the happy and neutral expression of the owner: they both approached and fetched the ‘happy’ object. In the happy–disgusted and neutral–disgusted groups, the dogs approached the bottles randomly, suggesting that they found the ‘disgusting’ and ‘neutral’ objects equally attractive. Nevertheless, the dogs preferentially retrieved the object marked with the relatively more positive emotion (happy or neutral) to the owner in both conditions. Our results demonstrate that dogs are able to recognize which is the more positive among two emotions, and in a fetching task situation, they override their own interest in the ‘disgusting’ object and retrieve what the owner prefers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-94
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal cognition
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2015

Keywords

  • Cooperation
  • Disgust
  • Dog
  • Emotion recognition
  • Happiness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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