Humans and dogs have a special relationship that dates back many thousands of years. Dogs are so tuned into humans that they understand the mood changes in their owners. From snuggling next to people who may feel bad to disappearing until a particular phase has subsided, researchers are finding out that dogs may be even more sensitive to people’s feelings than what was previously assumed.
Dogs are very sensitive to the emotional cues that people give off when in different emotional states. While they may not fully understand the cues themselves, thanks to their associative memory they can learn through repetition which emotional states are revealed and how they will react.
How Shih Tzu Cue in to Different Emotional States
Research on how dogs respond to different emotional states starts with how much they pay attention to humans. Dogs are actually quite attentive even during times when they may seem passive or not interested. For example, dogs are keen to follow a gesture of pointing because they may feel there is a reward at the location being indicated.
However, new testing was done with dogs while using the pointing gesture in different emotional states. This meant that the person conducting the experiment used positive and negative emotions. This meant that they trained the dogs by pointing to a particular reward often enough so that the dogs made the association. Then, they pointed while in different emotional states to judge the reaction of the dogs.
When pointing towards the reward while smiling, feeling happy, or otherwise positive there was no change in their behavior. However, when the person was angry or showing negative emotions, the response time of the dogs slowed down considerably. So, in both types of positive and negative emotional states, the dogs reacted noticeably different towards the negative emotions that were being generated.
Sometimes the person was subtle such as with a furrowed brow and other times more obvious by speaking in an angry tone. It was clear that the tone of the voice and the mannerisms that indicated negative feelings had a very noticeable effect on the dogs in the study.
Why Anger Causes Confusion in Shih Tzus
It is not fully understood why anger or negative feelings cause confusion in dogs, but it is clear that that its presence is enough to slow down the reaction of a dog even when a tasty reward awaited them. The research backs up what has been observed for many generations in that negative feelings while present when giving dogs commands creates a confusing situation.
This is true even if you are trying to link the negative emotion with the behavior of the dog. In general, dogs respond to positive reinforcement over negative primarily because their attention is not distracted by good or happy feelings. So, if the dog decided to use the bathroom on your favorite rug, rubbing his nose in it while being angry may only cause confusion. However, rewarding the dog for relieving themselves in the right place will reinforce that behavior.
What all the research points out is that dogs are especially tuned into the emotions of humans. This is why negative emotions can be confusing for them to understand.