Public Perceptions of Dog Behaviour & Emotion: Research

Our research to date on public perceptions of dog behaviour & emotion

Stanley the lurcher with his tongue out posing for the camera, standing in the sand, at Dogs Trust Leeds

Project Leads: Jana Muschinski and Dr Lauren Samet 

Key People: Dr Sara Owczarczak-Garstecka, Dr Naomi Harvey 

The problem, and its context within Dogs Trust.

Dogs bring joy and companionship to many people around the UK. Understanding dogs’ wants, needs, and behaviours helps people better communicate with and care for their dogs. When communication goes wrong, this can lead to unwanted behaviours and interactions that can put both people and dogs at risk. 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 (Tulloch et al., 2021). Dog bites and other unwanted behaviours also make it more likely that a dog will be rehomed or euthanised (put to sleep) (Pegram et al., 2021). 

When people are unable to interpret a dog’s behaviour or respond in the wrong way, unwanted behaviours can become worse. This miscommunication can also harm the bond between people and their dogs (Marston & Bennet, 2003). The public’s ability to interpret dog emotional and motivational states is therefore important for the welfare of both dogs and people.

With 1 in 3 households being home to a dog in the UK (UK Pet Food, 2023), dogs are a part of our daily life. Even people who are not dog owners will cross paths with dogs, often in parks and public spaces. Research on how the public perceives and responds to dog behaviour can help organisations like Dogs Trust develop better outreach and education campaigns to improve these interactions and reduce the risk of unwanted behaviours.

Our work so far:

In the summer of 2021, the Dogs Trust research team collected responses from over 5,000 participants to a survey on dog body language and behaviour. In the survey, participants viewed and answered questions about silent videos of dog behaviour, each less than 30 seconds in length. We also asked participants questions about themselves and their experience with dogs. We compared participants’ perceptions of the emotional and motivational states of the dogs to the perceptions of a set of dog behaviour experts to see what emotional and motivational states people had difficulty identifying. Analysis of this data is ongoing.

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


Samet, L. E., Muschinski, J.M., Owczarczak-Garstecka, S., Giragosian, K., Murray, J., Upjohn, M., Casey, R. (2023). Public Perceptions of Dog Behaviour in Videos: A Cross-Sectional Analysis [Manuscript in preparation]. Research, Dogs Trust. 


Muschinski, J.M., Samet, L. E., Giragosian, K., Murray, J., Owczarczak-Garstecka, S., Upjohn, M., Casey, R. (2023, August 2). Using silent video footage to assess the objective and subjective difficulty of the interpretation of dog emotions by members of the public [Conference presentation]. International Society for Applied Ethology 56th Congress, Tallinn, Estonia.

Muschinski, J. M. on behalf of Dogs Trust Research Team. (2023, May 4) Public Perceptions of Dog Behaviour: A Cross-Sectional Study [Guest lecture online]. Anthrozoology Course, Clinical Animal Behaviour MSc course, University of Edinburgh, UK.  

Samet, L. E. on behalf of Dogs Trust Research Team. (2022, November 9) Public Perceptions of Dog Behaviour [Seminar presentation]. Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians Seminar Series, Online, UK.


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

Marston, L. C., & Bennett, P. C. (2003). Reforging the bond—towards successful canine adoption. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 83(3), 227-245. 

Pegram, C., Gray, C., Packer, R. M., Richards, Y., Church, D. B., Brodbelt, D. C., & O’Neill, D. G. (2021). Proportion and risk factors for death by euthanasia in dogs in the UK. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 9145.

Tulloch, J. S., Owczarczak-Garstecka, S. C., Fleming, K. M., Vivancos, R., & Westgarth, C. (2021). English hospital episode data analysis (1998–2018) reveal that the rise in dog bite hospital admissions is driven by adult cases. Scientific reports, 11(1), 1767. 

UK Pet Food. (2023). UK Pet Population. 

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