Some recent studies are now providing empirical evidence to support these sorts of owner anecdotes. Dogs really do
seem to be especially skilled at picking up on what people are feeling; one study
published earlier this year even suggests that dogs can recognize a person's emotions by looking at his or her facial expressions. And, really, why shouldn't they be able to do so? Humans and dogs have co-evolved over many thousands of years (some theorize that the human-canine bond began 16,000 years ago; others say it's more like 30,000). It makes sense that during that time, we'd have established some form of cross-species communication. As the studies are piling up, it seems like a huge piece of that common language are our expressions — that is, our ability to read the emotions written on each others' faces.
Dogs, at least, are uncommonly skilled at reading people's faces. But how skilled are people at reading the faces of dogs? In recent years, a handful of researchers have begun an attempt to increase human understanding of that shared language, by improving the accuracy with which people read dogs' facial expressions. You may have heard of the Facial Action Coding System, a project that began in earnest in the late 1970s to taxonomize all the expressions a human face can make. This is like that, only for dogs
. "The literature so far is about dogs understanding human expressions," Juliane Kaminski of the University of Portsmouth told Science of Us. "We're sort of turning that around."