Proof that Dogs Are Manipulative Little Beasts: Our 'Best Friends' Use Facial Expressions When We Look at Them

You are not imagining things: your dog is giving you puppy eyes. Dogs pleading for another treat have us eating out of their hands with their facial expressions. A new study shows just how much our canine friends use their eyes to communicate. 

Research examining the relationship between humans and our best friend was just published in Scientific Reports by scientists at the University of Portsmouth in England. Inspired by past research that people and dogs have special connections, the team focused on how dogs respond to human attention.

Juliane Kaminski, expert in canine cognition, led the study using 24 dogs from a variety of breeds. Each dog was placed in a room with a person either facing the animal or turned away. The researchers filmed the interactions, with some involving food to determine whether food elicited the same kind of response as human interaction.

Kaminski found that dogs made more expressions, particularly by showing their tongues or raising eyebrows, when facing a person. The same was not true when food was present without human attention. 

GettyImages-630637860 Puppy eyes are actually a form of communication, according to a new study. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

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According to Kaminski, the differences the researchers observed indicate that those facial expressions are not involuntary. Rather, the dogs used them to communicate. 

The findings, says Kaminski, also reiterate the importance of making eye contact with your pet when you want him to stop chewing on your shoes. “Dog owners normally already have a feel for this, but it is probably a reminder how important it is for us to actually establish eye contact with our dogs when we want them to react to our communicative signals in any way,” Kaminski tells Newsweek in an email. Eye contact may help owners bond with pets in the same way that parents bond to infants, lending support to the phrase "puppy parents."

The most common expression seen among the dogs in the study was raised eyebrows—the face we call puppy eyes (for good reason, apparently). Past research has shown that people experience puppy eyes as a sad expression, and thus are manipulated by the look. A study from 2013 revealed that shelter dogs who flashed those soulful eyes more often found new homes more quickly. The reason? People thought the dogs seemed sad and were more empathetic.

While we might be taken in by that look, Kaminski says our pets might not purposely be manipulating us. “This kind of 'dinner table effect' that dogs try and look super cute when they want something is something we did in fact not find,” she says.

 

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