Dogs Respond Slower To an Angry Human’s Commands

While the idea of dogs understanding particular emotions is nothing new, this study shows that dogs who are given commands by an angry or irritated stranger are slower to respond that those who talk positively.

Brigham Young psychology professor Ross Flom and his research team recently conducted an experiment to see how dogs respond to a stranger should they speak in a positive or negative tone of voice.

“We know that dogs are sensitive to our emotional cues,” Flom said, “but we wanted to know: do they use these emotional cues?”

The experiment was broken up into two parts. Some adults showed positive behaviors (such as smiling and speaking in a pleasant tone) while making a pointing gesture. The other group exhibited negative behaviors while pointing, such as frowning, furrowing their brow and speaking harshly.



It is important to note that the people who participated in the experiment were not the dog’s owners, but were complete strangers. But it didn’t seem to matter – as most of us would predict, the dogs who were given commands in a negative tone of voice and body language were less cooperative and slower to react.

There was also a group of dogs who were given these commands in a “controlled” group. We can only assume that the dogs in the controlled group were given orders by strangers whose faces were emotionless and voices did not display anger nor contentment.

When comparing these three group of dogs, Flom found that while dogs who sensed anger in adults reacted more slowly but dogs whose pointing adults reflected a positive attitude didn’t react any faster than those in the controlled group.  Flom concluded that dogs use our tone and emotion to determine how fast (or slowly) to follow an order.



“Together these results suggest that the addition of affective information does not significantly increase or decrease dogs’ point-following behavior. Rather these results demonstrate that the presence or absence of affective expressions influences a dog’s exploratory behavior and the presence or absence of reward affects whether they will follow an unfamiliar adult’s attention-directing gesture.”

Case in point: if you’re training your dog to do something new or want them to follow your command, speak in an even tone of voice and do not look (or sound) impatient and annoyed. Canines are smart animals and know when you are growing angry and will be less likely to obey your commands.

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