Are you happy? Disgusted? Your dog can tell the difference

Once again researchers at the Family Dog Project in Hungary have confirmed an ability that dog lovers have long suspected in our canine companions.

In an ingenious series of experiments the Eötvös Loránd University ethologists demonstrated that dogs can discriminate between human expressions of happiness, disgust, and simply blank indifference.[i]

They built on earlier studies which had shown that dogs can tell the difference between smiling and “blank” photos of their owners’ faces, but did not recognize these differences on strangers’ faces. And that dogs were more interested in investigating a box when their owner had looked joyfully into the box than one that the owner had examined with an eeew! On the other hand, the owner’s expression of ickiness didn’t necessarily deter the dog any more than a simply blank expression. The authors hypothesized that this apparent disconnect might arise from dogs often finding objects in the world fascinating that humans find revolting and that the dogs had learned to notice this. You probably don’t have to go back farther than your last walk with your dog to think of some very graphic examples.

So Borbála Turcsán, and her colleagues, among them NCRC advisor Ádám Miklósi,, decided to look at whether dogs would prefer to fetch an object that their owner had handled with happiness, over one that had elicited revulsion or indifference, hypothesizing that such a “free choice” task might more precisely identify what human emotions the dog could “read” than was yielded by simply observing approach behaviors.

The results were striking. The dogs were decisively more likely to bring back the “happy” object over the disgusting or the “indifferent” one. But if both objects bored the owner, the dog’s choices were random, as they were when the choice was between a disgusting – to the owner – object and a boring one, whichever they approached first.  And these results were consistent from the dog’s first try to the last and with puppies between 10 weeks and a year old, so the behavior is unlikely to be attributable to learning which choice would yield a reward.

Much like year old humans and even more than great apes, “dogs,” it turns out, simply “demonstrate a preference for positive human emotions while also show[ing] avoidance of the negative.”

As this kind of research progresses, we learn more and more about why this remarkable interspecies bonding occurs with such ease.

[i]  Turcsán, B., Szánthó, F.,  Miklósi, Á., & Kubinyi, E. (2014). Fetching what the owner prefers? Dogs recognize disgust and happiness in human behavior. Animal Cognition. Advance online publication. doi 10.1007/s10071-014-0779-3




Social Share Toolbar
Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Breed-Specific Legislation is myth-based and ineffective according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)

AVSAB, a national association of veterinarians who are board-certified in the specialty of animal behavior, has just released a position statement expressing their opposition to breed-specific legislation. Their position paper notes that they are “concerned about the propensity of various communities’ reliance on breed-specific legislation as a tool to decrease the risk and incidence of dog bites to humans,” noting “that such legislation (BSL) – is ineffective, and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified (often incorrectly) as belonging to specific breeds.”

“Dogs and owners must be evaluated individually,” the authors conclude, citing the wide range of findings across the literature regarding breeds and bite risk. And many such findings are called into question by the demonstrated unreliability of visual breed identification, particularly with regard to the estimated 46% of the US dog population that are of mixed breed ancestry.

In discussing why dogs bite, these behaviorists point out that while there are many motivations, most occur when the dog feels threatened in some way, and that uncovering the triggers specific to the individual dog and responding appropriately are key to prevention. Understanding the social needs of dogs is particularly important to bite prevention, ranging from appropriate socialization of puppies to including the dog in the family, providing daily, positive interactions with people. Dogs that are kept simply as resident on the property, without such social opportunities, are much more likely to feel threatened by humans and respond accordingly. And owners who teach their dogs, through harsh training methods, that people are indeed dangerous are more likely to evoke aggressive responses from their dogs.

The AVSAB stresses that breed alone is not predictive of the risk of aggressive behavior. Indeed, this recommendation is in line with a recent study of dog bite-related fatalities which reported that in 80.5% of cases, four or more potential risk factors were present.

According to this national association of veterinarians who have specialized training in animal behavior, what does work is “responsible dog ownership and public education.” These “must be a primary focus of any dog bite prevention policy.”

The AVSAB also invites you to share this resource, “to discount common fallacies of ‘easy fixes’ that are often based on myths, and instead promote awareness that will reduce the prevalence of aggression toward people and promote better care, understanding, and welfare of our canine companions.” The full position statement can be viewed here:

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in News | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

New Edition of “Dog Bites: Problems and Solutions”

Some aspects of the dog bite situation have changed since the first writing of this paper for the Animals and Society Institute in 2006. More current statistical information about dog bite incidence is available. More is now known that both documents and explains the ineffectiveness of attempting to address this issue by prohibiting or regulating ownership of dogs on the basis of breed or appearance, leading to recommendations against breed-specific legislation (BSL) across the board among public and animal welfare organizations. New research has identified factors that co-occur in serious and fatal dog bite injuries. Finally, the blossoming field of canine behavioral research is uncovering husbandry issues with strong implications for minimizing canine threat and bite behavior toward humans. This second edition is an attempt to include these findings to produce the most current and comprehensive discussion of dog bites and society.


Public concern with regard to dog bites has remained high for decades. Alarm often intensifies in response to a single fatality or medically serious dog bite-related injury. However, a review of the ongoing public health records shows that dog bite-related fatalities remain extremely rare, and new research has uncovered co-occurring factors in these events that are under the control of dog guardians. None of these factors relates to the demographics of the dogs.

During a period where people increasingly consider and treat their dogs as family members, injurious bites have gradually declined, including a decrease in the percentage of injuries sustained by children. Current behavioral studies offer possible insight into why this is so, documenting profound differences in the behavior of family dogs – who have opportunities for daily, positive interactions with people – and resident dogs who simply live on the property in relative isolation without integration into the family social unit. Public policies that educate people about and otherwise facilitate these relationships provide the most promising approach to developing safer and more humane communities.

Dog bite-related fatalities account for about 1 in 92,000 (1/1,000 of 1%) of deaths in the United States annually. Nonfatal injuries are also relatively uncommon – only 1/10 of 1% of emergency room visits. Dog bite injuries are comparable in incidence but less severe than accidents involving many common household objects.

Attempts have been made to reduce these low rates of injury still further by prohibiting or otherwise regulating dog ownership on the basis of breed or appearance, presuming some dogs – absent any scientific evidence in support – to be disproportionately dangerous. Such legislation simply arbitrarily eliminates whole groups of dogs with no evidence that they would have ever harmed anyone.

Breed-specific legislation sometimes stops short of outright bans, but regulates how certain dogs may be kept, including mandatory spay/neuter regulations and requirements to muzzle dogs in public. No credible evidence has been presented to demonstrate that any particular breeds should be considered as over represented among biting dogs, and follow-up studies show no impact on bite rates after BSL is enacted. As a result, this kind of legislation is declining.

Other attempts to identify and regulate high-risk dogs focus on prior biting. This has been shown to be effective with regard to prior injurious biting behavior. Threatening behavior, however, is too widespread among dogs, and too frequently misunderstood, to be sufficiently predictive of actual biting. Removing or regulating all threatening dogs would require enormous and unrealizable increases in enforcement personnel, which would draw resources away from other public safety issues affecting more people and would inevitably capture many dogs who would never harm anyone. Casting such a wide net could even result in a significant decrease in the number of people keeping dogs, compromising both the demonstrated emotional and social benefits of dog companionship as well as the preventive effects on widespread chronic diseases.

Two types of solutions are proposed in this paper. First, regulatory penalties should focus on people who knowingly keep dogs in clear disregard for public safety, either through lack of appropriate supervision and confinement, mistreatment, or neglect likely to provoke warning signals and biting, or through a lack of precautions taken after an injurious bite has occurred. Second, information should be widely disseminated – especially to children and their parents – about safe ways to interact with dogs, and education for responsible dog guardians should include instruction on sound husbandry, to guide the range of decisions that each guardian makes regarding how to live with and care for a canine companion.

Click here to read the full text revised edition of “Dog Bites: Problems and Solutions”

Dog Bites Problems and Solutions 2nd Edition

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in News, Publications | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Breed-specific legislation on the decline


Breed-Specific Legislation on the Decline :

5 more states no longer allow BSL & more than 7x as many U.S. Municipalities repealed or rejected proposed BSL, than enacted it between: January 2012 – May 2014.

The national trend is moving steadily away from breed-specific legislation (BSL) and toward breed neutral laws that hold all owners equally accountable for the humane care, custody and control of their dogs. The list of states that are considering and passing legislation to preempt municipalities from passing BSL continues to grow.

BSL is a discriminatory law or ordinance that prohibits or restricts the keeping of dogs of specific breeds, dogs presumed to be specific breeds, mixes of specific breeds, and/or dogs presumed to be mixes of specific breeds.[1]


The trend reflects a growing understanding that regulating dogs on the basis of breed or physical description does not reduce dog bites.[2].[3],[4]. An analysis published in 2010 offers one explanation for the failure of BSL.[5] Most importantly, studies continue to show that one kind of dog is no more likely to threaten or bite a human being than another.[6],[7].[8].

The American Bar Association has urged the repeal of all BSL.[9] The White House also opposes BSL and released a statement saying, “research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources.”[10] No major national organizations endorse BSL, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, the Humane Society of the United States, the National Animal Control Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Best Friends Animal Society.

The tide has turned against BSL and communities are implementing policies that hold all dog owners responsible for the humane care, custody, and control of their dogs, regardless of breed or appearance.

Building safer and more humane communities requires multifactorial approaches focusing on improved ownership and husbandry practices, better understanding of dog behavior, education of parents and children regarding safety around dogs, and consistent enforcement of dangerous dog/reckless owner ordinances in communities.[11],[12].


Updated June 16, 2014

To view this document as a PDF, click here.


[1] The most drastic form of BSL is a complete ban, but BSL also includes any laws that impose separate requirements or limitations on dogs and dog owners, including but not limited to: mandatory spay/neuter, muzzling requirements, liability insurance requirements, special licensing and additional fees, mandatory microchipping or tattoos, owner / walker age requirements, property posting requirements, confinement and leash requirements, breed-specific pet limits, sale or transfer notification requirements, restrictions on access to certain public spaces with the dog [e.g.: public parks; school grounds], required town-issued items [e.g.: fluorescent collar; vest], training requirements, requirement that photos of the dog and/or owner be kept on town file. BSL, in any form, results in the destruction of many pet dogs.

For more information and to stay up-to-date with BSL, please see the NCRC BSL Map:

[2] National Canine Research Council. (2013). Denver’s Breed-Specific Legislation: Brutal, Costly, and Ineffective. Retrieved from:,%20Costly,%20and%20Ineffective%20_%20Aug%202013.pdf

[3] Rosado, B., García-Belenguer, S., León, M., & Palacio, J. (2007). Spanish dangerous animals act: Effect on the epidemiology of dog bites. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 2(5): 166-174.

[4] Cornelissen, J.,M., & Hopster, H. (2010). Dog bites in the Netherlands: a study of victims, injuries, circumstances and aggressors to support evaluation of breed specific legislation. Veterinary Journal, 186(3): 292-298.

[5] Patronek, G.J., Slater, M., & Marder, A. (2010). Use of a number-needed-to-ban calculation to illustrate limitations of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the risk of dog bite-related injury. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 237(7):  788-792.

[6] American Veterinary Medical Association: Animal Welfare Division. (2012). Dog Bite Risk and Prevention: The Role of Breed. Retrieved from:

[7] Guy, N. C., Luescher, U. A., Dohoo, S. E., Spangler, E., Miller, J. B., Dohoo, I. R., & Bate, L. A. (2001). Demographic and aggressive characteristics of dogs in a general veterinary caseload. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 74(1), 15-28.

[8] Casey, R. A., Loftus, B., Bolster, C., Richards, G.J., & Blackwell, E.J. (2014). Human directed aggression in domestic dogs (Canis familiarias): Occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 152, 52-63.

[9] American Bar Association. (2012). Resolution 100: Adopted by the House of Delegates. Retrieved from:

[10] The White House. (2013). Breed-Specific Legislation Is a Bad Idea. Retrieved from:

[11] National Canine Research Council. (2013). Causes and Prevention. Retrieved from:

[12]Patronek, G.J., Sacks, J.J., Delise, K.M., Cleary, D.V., & Marder, A.R. (2013). Co-occurrence of potentially preventable factors in 256 dog bite-related fatalities in the United States (2000-2009). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243(12), 1726-1736.

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in News, Publications | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

National Canine Research Council & Safe Humane Selected As Winners In The 35th Annual Telly Awards

The Telly Awards has named the National Canine Research Council and Safe Humane as a winner in the 35th Annual Telly Awards, Employee Communications and Training categories, for their piece titled “Police & Dog Encounters Video Training Series.” With nearly 12,000 entries from all 50 states and numerous countries, this is truly an honor.

The video training series, produced by Karl Productions, provides officers with hands-on skills and information to protect themselves, the public and the dogs they encounter in the line of duty. Presented in five, ten minute videos, which are designed to be viewed during police briefings, the series presents a clear sequence of tangible strategies to assist police with decoding animal behavior and body language, suggesting tactical methods for effectively deescalating an encounter to avoid violent force.

“Our goal in creating these videos was to partner with police municipalities across the country, supporting them with the training and information needed to prepare them for a dog encounter in the line of duty,” said Stacey Coleman, executive director of the National Canine Research Council. “We’re honored to have our efforts recognized by The Telly Awards.”

The “Police & Dog Encounters Video Training Series” was developed and funded by the National Canine Research Council in partnership with Safe Humane and the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to address the problem that nearly half of intentional police shootings at departments nationwide involve animals, most often dogs. The videos are available at no cost through the COPS Office Community Policing Learning Portal:

“Considering the integral role animals play in our communities and families, a lack of training about how to deal with dog encounters presented a void in the traditional police training,” said Cynthia Bathurst, executive director of Safe Humane. “We developed the videos from and for the police perspective, including expert advice on how to manage risk, liability and reporting of dog encounters. Ultimately, we and the police share in the goal of building safer communities for all. These videos help to accomplish that goal.”

National Canine Research Council is pleased that the recognition of this award has already received widespread media attention, which helps further the knowledge of the “Police and Dog Encounters” training series.

Read more about the award here:

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in News | Tagged , , | Comments Off