Public Perceptions of Dog Behaviour & Emotion

Project Lead: Dr Lauren Samet

Key people: Dr Naomi Harvey


Project background and summary

Public interpretation of a dog emotions from the dog’s behaviour is important for dog welfare, public safety, and human-dog interactions. There is currently a limited amount of research investigating which elements of dog body language public from the UK and ROI find most difficult to recognise, interpret, or respond to, and where the breakdown in communication lies. This research aims to address that via conducting a nationwide online survey addressing these topics.

Research Question: Which types of dog emotions do the UK and ROI public find most difficult to recognise, interpret, or respond to, and what influences misinterpretation of dog behavioural signals?

Increased knowledge of where canine communication commonly breaks down for human receivers can help tailor education and advice to owners and prospective owners. This could assist in the prevention of unwanted or abnormal dog behaviours (appropriate actions or responses to initial behavioural signs minimising the chances of escalation). This would have a positive impact on canine relinquishment rates, euthanasia, dog welfare, and individual human-canine interactions. Findings will be used to further our understanding of human interpretation and response to dog behaviours to appropriately target interventions to improve dog-human interactions.


The problem, and its context within Dogs Trust.

Unwanted behaviours in dogs are the leading cause (33%) of death in UK dogs under 3 years old (Boyd et al., 2018). One example of an unwanted behaviour is aggression; dog bites are a global public health concern, which result in costs to human physical and mental health, while also impacting the welfare of the dog (and increasing risk of relinquishment or euthanasia) (Owczarczak-Garstecka et al., 2018).

Being unaware of subtle dog behaviours, not understanding the emotional states behind them, or failing to respond to them appropriately, can lead to escalation of unwanted behaviour, increased risk of problematic outcomes and a breakdown in the human-animal bond, which can lead to increased risk of relinquishment (Marston & Bennett, 2003).

With 1 in 4 households at any one-time being home to a dog in the UK (PDSA, 2019), dogs form part of UK society regardless of whether all human societal members have an interest in, or own a, dog(s). An understanding of societal knowledge of dog communication and appropriate responses, outside of just the dog owning population, could help target educational programmes, campaigns, and training events to a broader reach of individuals that may encounter dogs, even if less consistently in day-to-day life.

Internal Dogs Trust stakeholders include Dogs Trust Canine Behaviour & Research, Community Education & Engagement, and Intervention Development teams.


Boyd, C., Jarvis, S., McGreevy, P.D., Heath, S., Church, D.B., Brodbelt, D.C. and O’Neill, D., (2018) Mortality resulting from undesirable behaviours in dogs aged under three years attending primary-care veterinary practices in England. Animal Welfare, 27(3), pp.251-262 

Marston, L. C., & Bennett, P. C. (2003). Reforging the bond—towards successful canine adoption. Applied Animal Behaviour Science83(3), 227-245.

Owczarczak-Garstecka, S.C., Christley, R., Watkins, F., Yang, H., Bishop, B. and Westgarth, C., 2019. Dog bite safety at work: an injury prevention perspective on reported occupational dog bites in the UK. Safety science118, pp.595-606.