And they’re letting you know they know. Just look at those puppy dog eyes.Scientists at the University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Center have found clear evidence that dogs change their expressions in direct response to human attention.
Previous studies have suggested that the facial expressions of non-human primates like orangutans and gibbons vary more when people are around, especially during play, indicating that those expressions are not necessarily an automatic response but a direct response to having an audience. But the Portsmouth study is the first to find a link between dogs’ facial expressions and the presence of people.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Juliane Kaminski, said, “The findings appear to support evidence that dogs are sensitive to humans’ attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays.”
They discovered that the dogs produced more facial expressions when the humans were facing them than when they turned away, with or without holding food.
Eye contact was the key.
Which means that when a dog makes a face at you, she may be trying to communicate.
The most common expression produced by the dogs during the study was brow raising. Brow raising makes the eyes look bigger, producing the effect of so-called puppy dog eyes.
In humans, puppy dog eyes can resemble sadness. In dogs, it can make their eyes appear larger and more baby-like. That could tap into human’s preference for child-like characteristics, making us especially responsive to that expression in dogs.
After all, people make puppy dog eyes at you when they want something. So it’s no surprise that puppies do it, too.