How good is this food? A study on dogs’ emotional responses to a potentially pleasant event using infrared thermography

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Tiziano Travain, Elisa Silvia Colombo, Laura Clara Grandi, Eugenio Heinzl, Annalisa Pelosi, Emanuela Prato Previde, Paola Valsecchi
Physiology & Behavior
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Understanding how animals express positive emotions is becoming an interesting and promising area of research in the study of animal emotions and affective experiences. In the present study, we used infrared thermography in combination with behavioral measures, heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV), to investigate dogs’ emotional responses to a potentially pleasant event: receiving palatable food from the owner. Nineteen adult pet dogs, 8 females and 11 males, were tested and their eye temperature, HR, HRV and behavior were recorded during a 30-minutestestconsisting of three 10-minute consecutive phases: Baseline (Phase 1), positive stimulation through the administration of palatable treats (Feeding, Phase 2) and Post-feeding condition following the positive stimulation (Phase 3). Dogs’ eye temperature and mean HR significantly increased during the positive stimulation phase compared with both Baseline and Post-feeding phases. During the positive stimulation with food (Phase 2), dogs engaged in behaviors indicating a positive emotional state and a high arousal, being focused on food treats and increasing tail wagging. However, there was no evidence of an increase in HRV during Phase 2 compared to the Phase 1, with SDNN significantly increasing only in Phase 3, after the positive stimulation occurred. Overall results point out that IRT may be a useful tool in assessing emotional states in dogs in terms of arousal but fails to discriminate emotional valence, whose interpretation cannot disregard behavioral indexes.


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