Who can resist those cute, puppy eyes gazing back at you? We certainly cannot, and if you are a dog owner yourself, you know what we are talking about. Those big, watery eyes are truly irresistible and your dog seems to be aware of that… at least to some extent. Scientists believe that our canine friends really are attempting to communicate, however, it is still unclear whether or not they are truly aware of our perspective. Could this be his sweet, little way of trying to manipulate you? Of course it can. In any case, it seems to be working just fine for them.
The Root of the Behavior
The fact is dogs do raise their eyebrows when they are looked at, and as consequence, it makes their eyes appear bigger. On the other hand, when given food, dogs are unlikely to alter their facial expressions in the same way. It seems that they move their faces in direct response to human attention. A lot of studies have shown that dogs produce significantly more facial movements when they are being watched.
This includes the old puppy-eye trick and our instant reaction to it. Because let’s face it, it is almost impossible to say no to them. When your pup is doing the puppy-eye trick, you tend to perceive it as more infant-like than a simple animal reaction. Which in return, makes you more empathetic to his child-like characteristics.
More so, it has been revealed that dogs that make so-called puppy eyes produce higher levels of oxytocin. This so-called “love hormone” is responsible for reducing stress and helping groups recognize individual members. Oxytocin plays a big part in helping parents and infants bond and has a stronger connection. Since dogs don’t use this behavior to form a bond with other animals, they must be doing it to win our hearts over.
Dogs are sensitive to human emotion and if they are constantly rewarded for the behavior they exhibit, they will always repeat it. Domestication also plays a huge part in the way your dog expresses himself. It seems that both humans and dogs may have co-evolved and are now able to share and recognize each other’s emotions.
In addition to this, if you were to establish eye contact with your pup at one point, you would see how he follows your gaze because he knows the gaze-shift is directed at him. It seems there really is more to the puppy-eye trick than just pure happiness or momentary excitement.
Encouraging the Behavior
We like to think that we, the alpha owners, are in charge of the situation and in command of their every action. Normally, we are hesitant to think that our dogs are capable of such manipulative thoughts, but let’s be honest, how many times has your pup stole from the cookie jar? Or how many times have you complied with his innocent-puppy-eyes trick and offered one yourself?
Whatever it is that he’s doing to get his treat, it’s certainly working. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, however, you need to reconsider your position as the alpha in the long run. If you’re no longer the one making the decisions, you do have something to worry about. In order to be a leader, you need to ask him to do something to earn the valued resource.
If you are going to give in, at least make sure he earns it. Call it double manipulation, but if you get to call the shots, you are still the one who is in control. And that is what leadership is about here. This doesn’t mean you can’t give your dog extra treats or show affection from time to time, but you need to be the one who decides if and when this should happen.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Puppy eyes are simply… a cuteness overload. Whether they do it while being aware of the fact that it triggers your emotion or not, it is still one of the sweetest things they will ever do. On the other hand, you probably know that apart from pleasing you, your pup is also looking for that special treat. Can you blame them? Do not forget how important food is to your dog and what they are willing to do to get it. Dogs are always motivated to perform and since behavior is driven by consequences, why not use this law of behaviorism to your mutual advantage?
Now you know your little furry friend is especially sweet and innocent when he’s aware that you are watching. They will generally adopt facial expressions when they are in front of an audience. If you want to get the best out of this situation, make sure you reinforce your position as leader of the pack, by choosing not to reward him every time he does it.