Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EMOMETER (EMOMETER: Developing an Integrated Toolbox for the Assessment of Emotional Functioning in Dogs)
Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-09-30
The research findings form a tool to evaluate and shape realistic expectations of dog emotional states. They contribute significantly in our understanding of dogs’ capability for processing and responding to emotional signals, such as subtle human expressions. This has significant practical implications for various human-dog interactions, and dog welfare. The development of such an integrated toolbox for dogs will pave the way for emotion assessment in a variety of animal species in everyday settings and will ensure Europe remains at the forefront of animal emotion and welfare research.
After the development of a working prototype, Objective 2 aimed to initially validate and refine the ITME. With a small sample of dogs during repeated every-day settings like greeting, play, food retrieval, petting, reunion and separation, suddenness or threatening approaches, the functionality of the ITME regarding temporal dependencies and sensitivity to emotional activation was shown in a proof-of-concept. Objective 3 consisted of the application of the ITME: assessing dogs’ sensitivity to subliminal emotional cues. The preparation work, including experimental setup (e.g. touch screen, eye-tracker), testing protocol and dog training, has been initiated and partially completed.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the laboratory-based person-contact research activities in Objectives 2 and 3 were significantly disrupted and could not be continued. Subsequently, four large-scale citizen science experiments have been developed from the original objectives to allow dog owners to test their dogs at home.
Experiment 1 investigated whether different personality/temperament characteristics (e.g. aggressiveness) was correlated with dogs’ paw preference in different motor tasks. Initial analysis did not reveal any clear correlation between pawedness in dogs and their personality. Experiment 2 investigated the possible function and cause of head tilting in dogs. Contrary to the common belief, our analysis showed the occurrence of head tilting is independent of breed appearance or dog sociability; but is dependent on the origin of the stimuli, with higher occurrence frequencies in response to auditory cues of dogs and cats compared to human voices of no direct relevance (angry or happy speech). Experiment 3 investigated submissive grinning in dogs, an ambiguous behaviour commonly displayed during greeting. Our analysis revealed that submissive grinning is generally left lateralized and is likely to be associated with emotional activation and communication. Experiment 4 compared dogs’ behavioural responses to their owners’ facial expressions (happiness, anger, sadness and neutral) under different viewing conditions (i.e. fully visible face vs partially occluded over the eyes (wearing sunglasses), the mouth (wearing face mask) or both). We showed wearing face mask significantly impacts on human-dog communication.
Alongside the communication and dissemination of the results via social media channels (@dogemotion) and the laboratory homepage (http://emometer.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk) several research publications with open access are currently under preparation.
Once fully validated, the ITME will have substantial academic impact, as the assessment and understanding of animal emotion is important to scientists in disciplines such as affective neuroscience, psychology, ethology, and animal cognition, behaviour and welfare. It will also have significant practical implications for human-dog interactions and animal welfare more broadly. It will provide great scope for knowledge transfer such as enabling improvements in dog training protocols and interventions, and for education the public with the aims of reducing dog bite-related incidents and increasing dog re-home rate. This will directly impact on people and organisations working with dogs including general public, vets, dog trainers, healthcare professionals, charities and policy makers. Furthermore, it will pave the way for emotion assessment in a variety of animal species in everyday settings (e.g. domestic and farm animals).