Tex is one of those dogs that is known for making puppy-dog faces. He frequently gives you the droopy eyes, the lifted eyebrows, and the perky ears. He also knows that these looks make you melt, and Tex has received his share of food scraps after showing you his cute face. You sometimes wonder if Tex is just trying to manipulate you with this face or is it something more? As you think these thoughts, Tex is standing at the door with those big blue eyes shining in your direction. It appears that you are running late for his morning walk. Gotta scram!
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs' facial expressions do tend to get to humans, and this probably derived from wolves that made cute faces to humans in order to scavenge for scraps. At that time, those cute faces were essential for the wolf's survival. Canines and people have lived side by side for 30000 years, and they have learned how to interact with each other and form a symbiotic relationship in which they can rely on one another. Although those begging eyes work wonders on some owners to get food scraps, it turns out that they use those cute faces just to be social too, so it is not all manipulative.
One study from the England’s University of Portsmouth and published in the Journal of Scientific Reports concluded that dog’s facial expressions are a way to communicate with humans. Researchers studied 24 family dogs all with a similar amount of training. They then had humans turn away and then turn towards the dog. The study found that when humans were turned towards the dogs, the dogs lifted their eyebrows and relaxed their tongues and had much more facial expressions than when the humans were turned away from them. Perhaps the craziest part of the study was that when food was present, this did not change the findings. This led researchers to conclude that these cute faces were a result of social expression and communication and not just excitement or manipulation.
Moreover, dogs seem to have a sense that humans give in to these cute faces, and it has even been proven that dogs watch human expressions and observe human behavior, so many experts believe that dogs have learned through evolution that humans appreciate those positive facial expressions. In previous studies, dogs have even been shown to recognize facial expressions in people and are known for trying to mimic behavior, including moving their faces in human-like ways.
Encouraging the Behavior
You may not know it, but you probably are encouraging your dog’s cute faces through your positive responses to the puppy-dog eyes. When Tex makes a cute face, you most likely are not scolding him and telling him to stop. His cute face is adorable, and you may even give into his begs when he shows you his facial expressions. You do need to be careful to not give in to Tex every time he raises those eyebrows and “smiles." This could lead to overfeeding him and giving him an excessive amount of human food which is not great for Tex’s diet and health. Although difficult, sometimes you have to refrain from giving into Tex’s cuteness, in this sense, he is similar to a small child.
A research program called DogFacts has put together a taxonomy of dog faces and has found 11 facial actions and five ear actions in dogs that have been utilized for communication. Basically, the program records and categories all of the various dog facial expressions and attempts to observe and analyze their meanings. The program offers humans even more of an insight into their canine pal’s communication.
Dogs are intelligent creatures, and through years of evolution, they have discovered that cute faces fare well with humans. Take another study that found that more dogs are adopted and rescued who show facial expressions to prospective owners than those that do not. This study recorded the facial expressions of numerous dogs at a shelter and found that dogs that showed cute faces (puppy-dog eyes, perky ears, etc.) to prospective owners were more frequently adopted than those that were not. Tex’s cute faces are a mode of communication, manipulation, and social interaction that proves to be successful in multiples scenarios.
Other Solutions and Considerations
As long as you are not constantly caving in to Tex’s cute face, there is no need for concern. He is communicating his needs and may even be trying to mimic you once in a while. He also cannot hold a conversation with you, so he knows that his raised eyebrows will sometimes aid him with getting what he needs from you. If your dog never makes cute faces, this is not a huge concern either. Like people, all dogs are different and have unique personalities. Do not be offended if your pooch does not offer you loads of daily puppy-dog eyes and perked ears. Your dog’s cute face behavior does not require training or remedies. It is what it is, and it is more than okay to snap a few pictures of Tex’s doggy smile to put on Facebook.
So you have figured out that although Tex does use his good looks to get what he needs, he also uses his facial expressions to communicate with you and even tries mimicking your own looks once in a while. Tex also exposes his cuteness when he is trying to be social, and you appreciate his effort. You find it fascinating that Tex has evolved with his emotional facial expressions and that there are various looks with different meanings to his doggy faces. You have become aware that you need to cut down on giving into Tex’s puppy-dog eyes when he is gazing up at you from under your dinner table; but overall, you are glad that Tex seems happy and more than willing to show you that beautiful doggy smile.
Written by a Retriever lover Amanda Clark
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/18/2018, edited: 01/30/2020