Personification is something we do on an everyday basis. From giving the moon eyes to movies where mice can speak. It’s how we create a connection to something because we share similar characteristics. We feel as though we see ourselves. Dogs are animals that constantly get personified because of their close relationship with humans.
My dog King is constantly smiling anytime I come home from college. I run in with a huge smile, excited to see him. He feels my energy and mimics what he sees, expressing his emotion the way dogs know how. What he experiences is a form of empathy called emotional contagion. When he does this, he watches my face and rapidly mimics it. All dogs do this with their caretaker. This takes less than one second to take place.
When we express our emotions in our faces and body movements, dogs are able to tell the difference. That is how they gain the information they need to act or predict the movements of another dog or person. They observe the individual, anticipate the behavior, and prepare accordingly. Rapid mimicry is most present in relationships that are familiar and socially close. Owners can use this information, particularly in play or training sessions. Knowing that your dog can differentiate an angry face from a happy face helps to keep you from getting frustrated at them, stunting the growth of your relationship. Keeping a hopeful stance encourages your dog to trust you and evokes that emotional bond as they grow alongside you. Dogs copy our faces so much they can yawn when we yawn!
Dogs’ ancestors also had this ability to keep them alive. They needed to predict other animals’ behaviors to act accordingly and keep themselves alive. Without being able to sense the difference between a friend or foe, they wouldn’t be able to hunt without being vulnerable. Today, they use it to feel safe when in our care and to get closer to us.
Next time you’re sad or happy, watch your canine’s face to see if they’re catching your emotion!