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ETpro's avatar

Are our pets better at learning our body language than we are at learning theirs?

Asked by ETpro (34600points) January 10th, 2012

We all know that pets can learn the meaning of human words. But recent research stydying dogs and their owners showed that dogs are also as adept at reading human intentions from facial ques, eye movement, and body language as human toddlers are. But are we behind the curve reding our pet’s body languageSpoony’s twitching ear episode. Viedo of her and her sounds.

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19 Answers

everephebe's avatar

No. I would cite anecdotal evidence ad nauseum… but just no.

wundayatta's avatar

This is not a question that is possible to answer. Can you even say for sure that you can read your friend’s or spouse’s body language better than they can read yours? I’m sure you might have an opinion, but I’m not taking your word for it. You’re too involved.

In my experience, people who love their pets are pretty good at understanding their pets. I think that people who don’t love their pets won’t read them very well. But that’s to be expected. As to how well the pets read their owners—I think they do fairly well. I couldn’t say whether they do it any better or worse than the other way around because I’m not in their heads and I don’t know what they are reading.

Berserker's avatar

Animals are close to the whole survival thing on a physical basis, obviously, much more than we are. We’re good at it, and in other ways too, but I think animals have it naturally to read body language, (both human and any other animal) and feel the vibe behind it and what it means. It’s probably like breathing to them, even to animals like cats and dogs that have been domesticated for centuries now.
I don’t know if we’re behind, but I think that compared to animals, our faculties for flight or flee, I need food or I love/hate you are quite secondary when it comes to body language, as compared to most animals that interact with humans daily.

Then again…I denno man…I never came face to face with a fuckin panther, but I don’t think I’d have any trouble discovering its intentions, whether it wanted me for dinner or was thinking I wanted it for dinner…in which, the outcome would be the same; I’d get fucked up.

saint's avatar

Only if we are not paying attention.
Most pet owners think their animal is a little human in a furry suit. They don’t deserve a pet. If you are going to own a domesticated critter, you are obligated to figure out their body language. Otherwise, you are not worthy. Plus you are a moron.

Pandora's avatar

I think it depends on the owner. I pretty much understand all of my dogs cues. When my dog sees me about to enter a room and he did something wrong he will stand by the door and not enter the room. His eyes will dart to where he did something wrong and his head will lower. He won’t make eye contact. Always a dead give away.
When he does something good like pee on the pee pad he will run up and bark all of sudden and back away slightly so I will follow him to the pee pad. Then before I even get to say good boy he will run to the kitchen for a treat.
When he needs to do number 2 he will scratch at the front door and run up to me and bark and then head for the door again.
When he’s hungry he will bang his bowls if there is no food or water.
When he wants a snack he scratches the cabinet that has his snack.
When he’s not feeling well he will curl up next to me and doesn’t want to be with anyone else.
When he wants to play he brings me a toy and barks for me to throw it or licks my feet and drops the toy near me and runs off, ready to catch it.
When he feels his paws are icky he goes to the tub and looks in and looks at me.
When he is ready for bed he stands by my bedroom door and will look at me and bark and walk in while looking to see if I’m coming. If, I don’t then he will come all the way over and bark. I call those nights his crabby nights.
When he gets up in the mornings he won’t leave the bed till I leave. But if he feels like sleeping in he will paw his ears hoping I will get back in bed and scratch his ears and go back to sleep. If I don’t then he will give a low growl and leave the bed to follow me and go plop on the couch to catch up on his z’s. He also has to get his morning kisses before he will leave the bed or he will stay on there barking till he gets his morning kiss and hug.
And I don’t know why this works but sometimes he will scratch the quilt when he’s getting ready for bed. If I hand him my robe or anything I recently wore he will stop and curl up on it and go to sleep.
When he feels someone doesn’t like him, he always hangs close by them and then little by little he will get closer and closer to them until he is finally asleep next to them. Gets dog haters everytime. They never want to push him away and wake him up and end up falling in love with him.
They are amused at how patient he is at trying to get near them.
Unless he doesn’t like the person. If he doesn’t like someone he will snort at them and walk away.
He will also bark and snort if you did something he doesn’t like.

zenvelo's avatar

If dogs can understand human body language, what did I do to encourage that dog to hump my leg?

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Pandora You say that you understand almost all of your dog’s cues… but perhaps there are all kinds of cues you’ve never recognized as such. Who knows what opportunities might be missed! :P

Pandora's avatar

@dappled_leaves The same can be said for my dog. There are times he really doesn’t seem to understand that he is being a jerk. Or maybe he does and just choses to ignore the fact. He can’t seem to understand that when he sneaks up behind me quietly and sees another dog that barking really loud seems to upset me as I peel myself off the ceiling and yet he continues to do it. Or that sometimes I don’t feel well and really am not in the mood for catch. And why on earth doesn’t he get the idea (after 11 years) that when I do my sit ups, I am not looking to get my face spit shined with his tongue, nor am I playing some wierd game. Yeah! He’s pretty smart but he definetly reads some of my cues all wrong.

digitalimpression's avatar

I’m pretty sure my facial expressions didn’t tell her to eat diapers and crap in the living room.

I get your point though. Dogs can read the smallest things in us. Can they do so better than us? I don’t think so.

ETpro's avatar

@everephebe You seem pretty certain our pets are in the dark about our thoughts despite the research study I cited. Thanks for the opinion, but I have to side with the researchers, and with my own personal experiences with Spoony THE Cat and previous loving pats.

@wundayatta Since the research team cited in the OP did return with and answer, I must disagree that the question cannot be answered. Granted it’s difficult, But there are ways to get at the answers. I completely agree that a pet owners accuracy in reading the meaning their pet’s sounds and body language is directly proportional to how much they love their pet.

@Symbeline. Great Answer. And I am pretty sure if I stumbled upon a hungry panther, the big cat could easily rad my body language.

@saint Ha! “Most pet owners think their animal is a little human in a furry suit.” Well said. And I completely agree that if we are going to welcome a furry friend into our household, it’s incumbent on us to apply our intelligence toward understanding their sounds and body language.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Dogs have been bred for a very long time to depend on us, it has become instinctive for them to observe us and make sense of what we are doing. That is why dogs are ‘man’s best friend’ and wolves are not. Wolves do not display the same interest in human body language that dogs do. Whether they understand us better than we understand them, I think that depends on the animal and the person.

everephebe's avatar

@ETpro why the fuck did you ask this question then? So we could all agree with you? Don’t put words in my mouth, ever.


P.S. “as adept at reading human intentions from facial ques, eye movement, and body language as human toddlers are” as adept as adults. Also key word, may… O_o

ETpro's avatar

@“Pandor“ Wow! That’s a smart dog. Spoony THE Car has a communication repertoire that’s similarly complex, and I thought I was alone in having a Mensa kitty.

@zenvelo Maybe he was teting it to see how much it was like a fire hydrant. :-)

@dappled_leaves Good point, but how would we determine that.The scientific method doesn’t lend itself to proving you haven’t missed anything.

@Pandora With those additional details, I am feeling much better about Spoony the Cat being an amimal genius when it comes to communicatin.

@digitalimpression Being able to read our faces doesn’t mean our pets are going to give up their own individuality. Sounds like you’ve got a bit of a prankster there.

@ANef_is_Enuf Great point. And as pack animals, even wolves need to he able to read the body language of other members of the pack.

@everephebe I have no idea what you are so outraged about. I asked the question because, having read the research, I wanted to know how other pet owners felt about its conclusions. I do not believe I put any words in your mouth. I also don’t recall making you my boss and agreeing to obey all your instructions for how I should behave on Fluther. If I did so in some moment of sleep walking, please show me where I signed on as your willing slave.

everephebe's avatar

@ETpro Pets is spelled pets, not “pats.” Whatever is the issue here, it’s cool man. I guess you’re not at your best at the moment, which I imagine to be an atypical thing for you. Until the morning or whenever. Cheers and warm wishes.



P.S. “outraged” ≠ miffed. #Petguardian

ETpro's avatar

@everephebe Sleep well. Sleep is something I need too.

everephebe's avatar

@ETpro Word. It’s way past my bedtime this school night. Cheers. :D
At least I’ve fed the cat so I don’t have to get up early and feed the dear thing at crack’O’dawn. :D

jerv's avatar

Animals are easy to read so long as you remember that they are not human, don’t think like humans, and don’t have the same physiology.

For instance, cats have inarticulate faces; the only things they can really move there are their eyelids and whiskers, and even those are limited. However, they have many muscles in their ears, and their tails are pretty much tied to their subconscious, so watching their ears and tail will tell you far more than watching their face like you would with a human. Dogs cannot move their ears as well as cats, but they have more articulate and expressive noses/muzzles so you can actually get some information from their face.

It’s not that pets are better at it so much as we humans never bother to learn.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv Tell me this cat isn’t communicating to a dumb human who just won’t listen.

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