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Humans are ‘surprisingly’ poor at picking up aggression in dogs, study reveals

Humans struggle to identify aggressive behaviour in dogs, according to a new study.

The research by the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology in Germany, published in the journal PLOS ONE, assessed how well people can evaluate social interactions and found that humans performed no better than chance at assessing aggression.

In the research, 92 adult participants watched a series of short video clips showing the start of a non-verbal interaction between two children, two domestic dogs or two Barbary macaques. The videos included signals about the nature of the interaction, such as body postures and facial expressions. However, the videos were stopped just before the interaction took place.

Scientists asked half the participants to categorise the interaction as aggressive, neutral or playful. The participants were accurate in categorising playful interactions, which they correctly identified 70% of the time, according to the study. However, the researchers noted that participants performed “particularly poorly” at predicting the outcome of aggressive interactions in dogs.

Humans may be biased to assume good intentions from other humans and dogs, something that may prevent the accurate recognition of aggressive interactions, researchers said.

The scientists added: “Humans are quite good at categorising and predicting social situations with other humans, dogs and monkeys, but it depends on the context. Surprisingly, humans underestimate aggression in dogs.”

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