What is Your Dog's Face Telling You?
Think your canine’s puppy dog eyes are trying to tell you something? According to researchers, it’s not just in your head. A new report published in the journal Scientific Reports found that dogs deliberately use facial expressions to communicate with people.
For the study, researchers with the University of Portsmouth in England recruited 24 dogs of different ages and breeds, all of which were family pets without any special training or instruction. The dogs were placed in different situations to see how their facial expressions changed.
In one scenario, an unfamiliar person faced the dog, while in another they turned their back to the animal. For the other two trials, the person held a treat while either turned toward or away. The human participants remained still and did not stimulate the dogs in any other way during each trial.
Researchers found that the dogs were much more expressive when the person was facing them, and they were more likely to show relaxed tongues and raised eyebrows (often called “sad puppy dog face”). The presence of a treat did not appear to have a significant impact, thus leading researchers to conclude that increased facial movement are a social reaction to human attention—not an instinctual reaction to excitement.
“The study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that for dogs, human attention is important during social interactions,” said Juliane Kaminski, senior lecturer at England’s University of Portsmouth and the study’s lead author in a statement to HuffPost.
However, Kaminski also points out the limitations of the study, stating that we still can’t tell exactly what dogs are thinking—no matter how much owners may claim otherwise.