Some people swear their dogs can communicate with them. A new study adds some credence to that belief.
Dogs use more facial expressions when people are looking at them — likely in an attempt to communicate with humans, researchers in the United Kingdom concluded.
“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,” said study leader Juliane Kaminski.
Kaminski, who’s with the University of Portsmouth Dog Cognition Center, and her colleagues assessed 24 dogs of various breeds, ages 1 to 12 years. All were family pets.
There was clear evidence that the dogs made facial expressions in response to human attention, the researchers said.
The most commonly used expression? Brow raising — often called “puppy dog eyes” — which makes the eyes appear bigger. This often elicits an empathetic response from dog owners, the study authors noted.
The dogs did not make more facial expressions when they saw food. This suggests they use facial expressions to communicate, not just because they are excited, said Kaminski.
“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,” Kaminski said in a university news release.
Domestic dogs have lived alongside humans for 30,000 years, she noted. “During that time, selection pressures seem to have acted on dogs’ ability to communicate with us,” she added.
“We knew domestic dogs paid attention to how attentive a human is — in a previous study we found, for example, that dogs stole food more often when the human’s eyes were closed or they had their back turned,” Kaminski said.
This new study builds on what’s understood about how dogs think, she added. “We now know dogs make more facial expressions when the human is paying attention,” she concluded.
The study was published Oct. 19 in the journal Scientific Reports.
The National Canine Research Council has more on the human-dog connection.