Dog Behaviour Decoded – Emotional Expressions in Canis familiaris

Principal Investigator: Stefanie Riemer
Project Team: Annika Bremhorst (PhD student)
Nadine Zimmermann (Master student)
Nicole Sutter (BSc student)

Prof. Daniel Mills, University of Lincoln

Funded by: Paul Schwab Stiftung

While some scientific studies have investigated the broader phenomenon of stress and associated physiological and behavioural parameters, there is a lack of systematic research on the expressive elements of different emotional states in dogs. Therefore, the aim of this current project is to develop a comprehensive and systematic approach for identifying emotional expressions in dogs. We are measuring facial, bodily, and physiological indicators during different emotional situations in order to explore how to best differentiate between different emotional states in dogs. For identifying facial expressions associated with different emotional states, we use DogFACS (Dog Facial Action Coding System). For the bodily counterpart, we are developing a methodology for the systematic and objective analysis of body movement in dogs, adapted from a methodology that has successfully been used to identify bodily expression of emotions in humans. We furthermore use infrared thermography to collect physiological data during different emotional states in dogs. With this comprehensive approach, we investigate whether emotional expressions are reliable within one breed and across breeds, across situations that are all predicted to induce the same emotional state, and we study the communicative function of emotional expressions in dogs..


Bremhorst, A., Sutter, N.A., Würbel, H., Mills, D. & Riemer, S. (2019) Differences in facial expressions during positive anticipation and frustration in dogs awaiting a reward. Scientific Reports 9, 19312 

Bremhorst, A., Mills, D. Würbel, H., & Riemer, S. (2021) ‘Puppy dog eyes’ are associated with eye movements, not communication. Frontiers in Psychology doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.568935