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Scientists Confirm That Canines Officially Give Owners ‘Puppy Dog Eyes’ On Purpose

by Lindsey Smith
Lindsey is from Florida and has worked in online and print media. Her happy place is Michaels craft store.

Whether you own a dog or have been to someone’s house who owns one, chances are you’ve been given puppy dog eyes.

This, of course, is when a dog looks up and displays the white of his eyes and appears to be begging.

The look that can melt your heart in an instant is usually given to people by dogs when they want something, particularly food.

I know when my own dog gives me that look I personally automatically succumb and give in to her.

Now, a new study done by scientists at the University of Portsmouth has determined that dogs give the look to their owners on purpose as a way to communicate.

Since dogs and people can’t talk to each other, they have to take cues from facial expressions. The study found that dogs will move their face in response to the human gaze.

“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,” Dr. Juliane Kaminski of the University of Portsmouth said.

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On October 19, 2017, Dr. Juliane Kaminski, Director of Dog Cognition Center Portsmouth, and three colleagues published a scientific report that states “human attention affects facial expressions in domestic dogs.”

What they found was that dogs do their infamous puppy dog eyes as a direct result of their owner’s gaze.

The study looked at 24 female and male dogs of various breeds who were all domestic pets.

They wrote:

The current study investigated whether dog facial expressions can be subject to so called audience effects, and can therefore be tailored to the human’s attentional state, which might suggest some social communicative function and possible voluntary control. 

Anyone with a dog knows how hard it is to ignore your dog when they give you puppy dog eyes.

Most dog owners will notice their dog giving puppy dog eyes when they are holding food and their dog wants a bite.

Scientists have already built cases around dogs having a myriad of facial expressions, some you may be familiar with.

Courtesy of Lindsey Smith

Like other mammals, dogs can produce 16 facial expressions, like a smile.

This study used the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to measure dogs’ facial expressions.

Dr. Kaminski was pleased with the results from the study: that puppy dog eyes are made on purpose.

“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,” she said.

The scientists have two big findings.

They reported:

First, human attentional state affected the production of dogs’ facial expressions. Dogs produced significantly more facial expressions when the human was oriented towards them, than when the human had her back turned to the dog. The visibility of the food, however, did not affect dogs’ facial movements and there is also no conclusive evidence that it affected any of the dogs’ other behaviors. 

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The findings made the scientists confident that dogs make puppy dog eyes for their humans and not as a direct result of seeing food.

Dr. Kaminski said:

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 food treats did not have the same effect.

Courtesy of Lindsey Smith

From what the scientists gathered, dogs will make more facial expressions when a person is watching and paying attention to them.

“The visibility of the human’s eyes might be important for dogs for the production of facial expressions,” the scientists wrote. “This might be evidence that dogs produce facial expressions as a flexible signal and that its production depends on the attentional state of the receiver of the signal.”

Courtesy of Gwen Plummer

Dogs have lived with humans for over 30,000 years so it makes sense that they’ve developed a way to communicate with us through facial expression.

“We knew domestic dogs paid attention to how attentive a human is,” Dr. Kaminski said. “This study moves forward what we understand about dog cognition.”

Courtesy of Lindsey Smith

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