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Science confirms it: Your dog’s emotions are written all over its face

Tia, a 4-year-old bull mastiff, sits in a kennel at the Mayhew Animal Home in London, England on March 9, 2010. Clearly, Tia is worried.

Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

How can you tell if your dogs are happy? Not just by the wag of their tails, but the smiles on their faces, of course.

Scientists have now confirmed what dog lovers have long known – humans can read canine facial expressions.

According to The Telegraph, researchers at Walden University in Minneapolis photographed a five-year-old Beligian shepherd producing a range of expressions, which they triggered, then asked 50 volunteers to examine the photos to guess the pooch's state of mind.

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For instance, to make Mal happy, the researchers praised the dog, prompting it to perk its ears up and stick its tongue out. To make Mal sad, they scolded it, causing it to look down mournfully.

Nearly 90 per cent of the volunteers were able to recognize Mal's happy expression, the Telegraph reports, and 70 per cent correctly identified when Mal was angry, exhibiting bared teeth. (Curious to see how well you know canine facial expressions? Check out the snapshots of these adorable pups and see if you can decipher their moods.)

"There is no doubt that humans have the ability to recognize emotional states in other humans and accurately read other humans' facial expressions," lead researcher Tina Bloom told the newspaper, noting that she was confident she could read the expressions of her own canine pets.

But, she added: "If I adopted a cat, or a snake or a turtle, I don't think it would be as emotionally attached to me and watching my face as much as a dog would. There is something different and special about a dog – I'm not sure what it is, but it's there."

Cat lovers, however, may disagree.

The Humane Society of the United States previously published this helpful feline emotion decoder on its website, suggesting that cats can be just as expressive using body language and vocal messages.

Purrs are obviously a sign of happiness, but strange twittering noises produced when a cat is watching birds or squirrels may reveal their fantasies of making a "killing bite," the society says.

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Ears positioned backward, sideways or flat are signs that a cat is irritable, angry or frightened, while ears that are pointed forward means it is alert, interested and happy. Constricted pupils either mean a cat is content or getting ready to attack, and dilated pupils means it is nervous, submissive or playful.

And as for Grumpy Cat, the famous frowning feline who has become an Internet meme? Well, maybe Grumpy just needs a good reason to cheer up.

What do you think? Which animals' emotions are easier to read – dogs or cats?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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