You know those people who try to tell you that your pet doesn’t really love you or only uses you for food? You know how you want to just tell them “shut up” because you know your fur-kid loves you? Now, you can tell them to “shut up” with science because a new study on dog behavior found that those puppy dog eyes he’s making are really just for you.
“We can now be confident that the production of facial expressions made by dogs are dependent on the attention state of their audience and are not just a result of dogs being excited,” said study co-author Juliane Kaminski from the University of Portsmouth. She added, “dogs are sensitive to humans’ attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays.”
>Earlier studies have found that nonhuman animals are capable of producing facial expressions and that most mammals can pull off what looks like a happy or sad face. And yes, those could be facial twitches or your dog panting after a nice jog in the park, but facial expressions have also been reported in macaques, dogs and, as of 2015, horses.
Humans have 27 distinct facial expressions, while chimpanzees can produce 13, horses can produce 17 and dogs can produce 16. Not bad for an animal that licks its own butt.
Other studies on dog behavior suggest dogs are smiling at us and dog behavior allows our canine buds to identify human facial expressions and engage in the same social behaviors as humans, scanning faces and eyes to analyze intent and identify threats.
“Domestic dogs have a unique history – they have lived alongside humans for 30,000 years and during that time selection pressures seem to have acted on dogs’ ability to communicate with us,” Kaminski said.
“We knew domestic dogs paid attention to how attentive a human is – in a previous study we found, for example, that dogs stole food more often when the human’s eyes were closed or they had their back turned. In another study, we found dogs follow the gaze of a human if the human first establishes eye contact with the dog, so the dog knows the gaze-shift is directed at them.
“This study moves forward what we understand about dog cognition. We now know dogs make more facial expressions when the human is paying attention.”
Photo of Arya by Jason Gabler
It’s possible those puppy dog eyes are a result of domestication — dog behavior adapted to tap into humans’ preference for child-like characteristics. And c’mon, we totally respond to that face, so who trained whom?
Photo of Nugget provided by Julianne Aerts