Can young children easily confuse dog emotions? Research suggests so.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki has explored when children begin to develop the ability to read dog body language and how their experience with dogs may influence this skill. The study involved 34 adults, 34 four-year-olds, and 31 six-year-olds who were shown photos of dog and human faces and asked to identify the emotions displayed. The results showed that four-year-old children rated angry dogs as being in a more positive mood compared to older children and adults, even if they had experience with dogs. However, six-year-olds with experience with dogs were as proficient as adults in identifying dog emotions from photos. The study suggests that age and experience play a role in how accurately children can interpret dog emotions. Children under the age of five tend to interpret dog expressions based on similarities to human expressions, which can lead to misinterpretations, particularly when an angry dog shows its teeth. By the age of six, children who have lived with a dog may have learned to recognize exposed teeth as a sign of anger in dogs. The findings highlight the importance of close supervision when young children interact with dogs, as they may not accurately interpret dog threat displays and may engage in behaviors that provoke dogs. The study also raises questions about the co-domestication hypothesis, which suggests that humans and dogs have developed effective communication due to their long association. Further research is needed to determine whether children are naturally inclined to learn to read dogs or if it is simply a result of their early exposure to the species. Regardless, it is crucial to closely monitor interactions between children and dogs, even if they have grown up together, as older children can also make mistakes and dogs may not always tolerate provocative actions from children.