Interspecies transmission of emotional information via chemosignals: from humans to dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)

Abstract

We report a study examining interspecies emotion transfer via body odors (chemosignals). Do human body odors (chemosignals) produced under emotional conditions of happiness and fear provide information that is detectable by pet dogs (Labrador and Golden retrievers)? The odor samples were collected from the axilla of male donors not involved in the main experiment. The experimental setup involved the co-presence of the dog’s owner, a stranger and the odor dispenser in a space where the dogs could move freely. There were three odor conditions [fear, happiness, and control (no sweat)] to which the dogs were assigned randomly. The dependent variables were the relevant behaviors of the dogs (e.g., approaching, interacting and gazing) directed to the three targets (owner, stranger, sweat dispenser) aside from the dogs’ stress and heart rate indicators. The results indicated with high accuracy that the dogs manifested the predicted behaviors in the three conditions. There were fewer and shorter owner directed behaviors and more stranger directed behaviors when they were in the “happy odor condition” compared to the fear odor and control conditions. In the fear odor condition, they displayed more stressful behaviors. The heart rate data in the control and happy conditions were significantly lower than in the fear condition. Our findings suggest that interspecies emotional communication is facilitated by chemosignals.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank all the handlers who participated in the test with great enthusiasm. This research was supported by ordinary funding from the University of Naples “Federico II”. G.R. Semin gratefully acknowledges the financial support provided by the Portuguese Science Foundation (IF/00085/2013/CP1186/CT0001).

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Correspondence to Biagio D’Aniello.

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This study was approved by the Ethical Animal Care and Use Committee of the University of Naples “Federico II” (Protocol Number 2017/0025509). All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

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Informed consent was obtained from the owners of all dogs included in the study.

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D’Aniello, B., Semin, G.R., Alterisio, A. et al. Interspecies transmission of emotional information via chemosignals: from humans to dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Anim Cogn 21, 67–78 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-017-1139-x

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Keywords

  • Dogs
  • Human emotional smell
  • Interspecies emotional transfer
  • Emotional communication
  • Dog’s heart rate
  • Dog–human bond