Research shows that dogs alter their own facial expressions and deploy their lethal puppy dog eyes when they know that humans are looking at them. This may be an effort to communicate.
When dogs, or animals in general, make facial movements, is it on purpose or mostly unconscious? Many believe that when animals make facial expressions, it may be because of involuntary muscle movements. However, evidence to the contrary is mounting. For example, a new study has found that dogs in particular may be consciously altering their facial expressions in order to communicate with their human companions. These findings are the newest in a long quest to better understand our canine companions.
Research has already shown that dogs constantly monitor our movements and watch our gestures and facial expressions. “Dogs read human gestures and communicative signals in ways other animals can't,” says Juliana Kaminski, one of the researchers.
Researchers found that dogs may be raising their inner eyebrows and showing their tongue to communicate with humans.
Dogs and humans have been living together for about 30,000 years. Thus, it’s entirely plausible that dogs have evolved a variety of ways to be able to communicate with us.
Kaminski and her colleagues randomly selected 24 family dogs from a database of volunteer families in Germany. The researchers then set up cameras to record the facial expressions of the canine volunteers as they react to four different situations. In these situations, a human faced the dog with a treat, faced the dog without a treat, faced away from the dog with a treat, and, finally, faced away from the dog without a treat. All these situations had a camera recording the facial expressions of the dogs. The researchers then examined the footage frame by frame using a rubric that served as a standard to define canine facial expressions.
According to the results of the experiments, the dogs made a lot more facial expressions in scenarios in which their human partner was facing them. The dogs were more likely to show their tongue and put on puppy dog eyes--a facial expression researchers dubbed as AU101, in which the dogs raised their inner eyebrows.
It didn’t matter whether or not the human was holding a treat. This, of course, was a crucial bit of information. It suggested that dogs perhaps don’t utilize facial expressions to manipulate their human companions.
What are our dogs telling us?
Puppy eyes tug at our heartstrings--in fact, a study has found that dogs that express AU 101 tend to get adopted more quickly than dogs that don’t express the same thing. This may be because AU 101 looks like human facial expressions of sadness.
However, Kaminski isn’t sure if dogs use this facial expression to get what they want from humans. “We do not see what we would call the 'dinner-table effect,' dogs drying to produce a 'super-cute' face when the human sees them [and also is] presenting food to them,” says Kaminski. The research simply finds that dogs are trying to communicate, particularly by making puppy dog eyes, but not what they’re trying to communicate.
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