Dogs Know Exactly What They’re Doing When They Give You Puppy Eyes


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Portrait of a two-month old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel puppy with a slightly worried expression.

    “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. In our study, they produced far more expressions when someone was watching, but seeing [only] food treats did not have the same effect,” expressed Dr. Juliane Kaminski. 

    Our furry friends know the one-way street to our hearts well – making puppy eyes. All they have to do is raise their eyebrows, and make their eyes look bigger, and sadder to us. In the same fashion, their larger eyes also seem infant-like to humans. It’s a relatively simple, yet effective concept.

    In one study published in Scientific Reports, 24 dogs (aged one to twelve) were tied one foot away from human participants. The dogs were tested in three main measurements; a trial run, food present vs. food absent, and attentive vs. inattentive, all while being filmed. The study found that they demonstrated significantly more facial expressions when humans were paying attention to them, as opposed to when humans had their back to them. When the person was oriented toward the dog, it generated an inner brow raise and tongue display in the animal, according to DogFACS, a coding system based on underlying muscular movements. When food was presented, however, the dog’s facial motions were not altered whatsoever – meaning they changed their facial expression based on an effort to communicate, rather than an involuntary emotional response.

    But that’s not the end of the story- additionally, observations have shown that dogs only follow a human’s gaze once eye contact has been previously established, further demonstrating the importance of human eye visibility for dogs to produce facial expressions. In simpler terms, our furry friends direct puppy eyes at us because they know we’re paying attention.

    Throughout history, animal expressions were considered unintentional emotional displays- most mammals produce facial expressions. A current study, however, aimed at domestic animals, proved otherwise, determining that dogs change facial expressions in an effort to communicate with humans.

 Dr. Kaminski believes that this quality was acquired when they were domesticated, saying, “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.”

Regardless of how or why dogs give us puppy eyes, they know they’re doing it- and it’s effective.