OCT 23, 2017 11:25 AM PDT

Your Dog Makes Faces At You When You Give it Attention

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Dogs are often considered to be man’s best friend, and modern scientific research seems to support this longstanding philosophy time and time again.

Is this dog giving its owner the puppy eyes on purpose? A new study suggests these faces can be directly linked to human attention.

Image Credit: Pixabay

One of the latest studies to reinforce this idea took place at the University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Center in England, where researchers studied 24 dogs’ facial muscle movements as they responded to human attention.

The test subjects, which were all family pets of different breeds and aged one to 12, were filmed and analyzed with computer software as someone sat about three feet away and gave the animals their undivided attention. The results have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

As it would seem, that infamous puppy-eyed face indicates a type of appeal to the attention humans give dogs. In fact, dogs may exhibit a whole host of different facial expressions in response to human attention to lure us into interacting with them more.

Interestingly, the researchers found no significant impact in facial expression when giving the dogs treats, highlighting how human interaction is a more powerful provoking mechanism in dogs than food is.

“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,” explained study lead author and dog cognition expert Dr. Juliane Kaminski.

“In our study, they produced far more expressions when someone was watching, but seeing food treats did not have the same effect.”

Related: Dogs can remember your actions and judge you for them

Understanding what the dog is trying to convey through facial expression still proves to be a hard nut to crack, but knowing that there’s a connection between attention and facial expressions is the start of being able to understand a dog’s body language.

Just as your face might change when you hear something that you like or don’t like, dogs do the same. In fact, while some of these facial expressions might be voluntary, some might be involuntary as a direct response to the anima’s current emotional state of mind.

“The findings appear to support evidence dogs are sensitive to humans’ attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays,” Kaminski continued.

“This study moves forward what we understand about dog cognition. We now know dogs make more facial expressions when the human is paying attention.”

Related: Genetics might explain why dogs are so friendly toward humans

Dometic dogs have evolved alongside humans for thousands of years, so perhaps this interaction isn't very surprising. On the other hand, further research might make it possible to translate these facial expressions into body language and a form of communication.

Source: University of Portsmouth

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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