Factors affecting the human interpretation of dog behavior

Iben Meyer*, Björn Forkman, Elizabeth S. Paul

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

8 Citations (Scopus)


Several factors influence how we interpret the behavior of another individual. In the current study, we investigated the effect of level of animal empathy, as well as the level of experience with dogs, on the interpretation of dog behavior. Forty-seven veterinary students participated in the study. Each student filled out a printed questionnaire on their experiences and skills with dogs, and then completed the Animal Empathy Scale. They were shown five 2-minute videos of dogs, and asked to cross off 19 visual analogue scales after each video clip, assessing 19 adjectives for each of the dogs. Principal component analysis (PCA) was performed on all of the visual analogue scale scores for each of the five videos. For every PCA, one of the components retained related to aggressiveness. For students with no prior responsibility for a dog, animal empathy score showed significant inverse correlations with the aggressiveness-component for four of the five videos watched by the students (r = -0.38, p = 0.044; r = -0.39, p = 0.039; r = -0.38, p = 0.047; r = -0.51, p = 0.005). Animal empathy did not show any significant correlation with components related to other types of emotion or behavior. There was no effect of any of the self-reported skills with dogs on the interpretation of dog behavior, and having had a dog in the family as a child only had sporadic effects. These results indicate that people with a low level of animal empathy and no prior responsibility for a dog assess dog behavior and emotion related to aggressiveness as more pronounced than people with a high level of animal empathy. The results also point to possible interactions between animal empathy, experience with dogs, and interpretation of dog behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-140
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • Animal empathy
  • Behavior assessment
  • Dog behavior
  • Dog experience

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