Facial expressions, including eyebrow movements, are part of a higher order of social behavior. Communication through facial expressions is learned from a young age. We have become proficient at moving eyebrows, smiling, and frowning and showing our pleasure or disapproval on our faces. Dogs can effectively do the same in many ways, in fact they can also move their ears to communicate their feelings. When your dog looks at you, and raises his eyebrows, he is telling you he is happy to see you. When he moves his eyebrows with a soft look in his eyes he seems to be saying, I think you are great and I am glad I know you!
The Root of the Behavior
Sociable animals and animals that thrive in packs or family groups use their eyebrows as an expressive mode of communication. Dogs can use their eyebrows but cats and animals like foxes that hunt alone and live more solitary lives, do not have eyebrows. The most sociable animals are the ones to use their eyebrows in facial expressions. Eyebrows are controlled by little muscles called levator, anguli, and oculi medials. These small, strong muscles pass through parts of the lid to the hairs on the eyebrow. The muscles are there to lift the lid and erect the hairs on the brow. Some animals have clearly marked eyebrows and it is easy to see when they are lifting or moving up and down. F.A.C.S. which stands for Facial Action Coding System has recorded twenty-seven human facial expressions and sixteen dog facial expressions. Dogs are right up there with man having many more expressions than other animals.
Dogs have integrated so well with people that they know how to use their eyes and expressions to interact with their human caregivers. Raising eyebrows and making ‘puppy eye’ expressions has helped many a rescue dog to find his way out of the pound and into the arms of a caring family. Raised eyebrows are also a signal from your dog that you are recognized, and he is happy to see you. It’s a form of communication that is not necessarily linked to food. The eyebrows are raised just whenever your dog is pleased you have noticed him. Dogs have evolved over the years to be the non-aggressive, canine companion that could live closely with humans. Making eye contact and sharing facial expressions gives both parties a feel good experience and produces oxytocin. The chemical messenger called oxytocin plays an important part in social interaction and positive behavior. In various experimental situations scientists noted that dogs made more facial expressions when they faced their owners. Raising their eyebrows and making puppy eyes was a form of communication. It was a deliberate way to have a more engaging expression like a puppy. The dogs in the experimental environment responded more with human attention and so it was felt that the behavior was a form of communication.
Encouraging the Behavior
When man decided he wanted a non-aggressive animal companion, dogs were able to modify their lifestyle and fit that description. Over the years, dogs have been able to evolve into more than just a watchdog or hunter. Dogs have integrated into the domestic realm and during their evolution have learned how to read facial expressions while in turn making their own expressions too. The dog’s human companions have learned to read some of the dog’s expressions and to respect the dog’s efforts to share love, happiness, and feel-good emotions. Raised eyebrows will always get a positive response. Your dog raises his eyebrows and looks cute to tell you he is cute and he is very happy to be with you. Dogs deliberately put on the puppy-eyed expression because they know it works and always gets a good reaction. They also know that looking like an adorable puppy is a winning gesture. Dogs can look surprised or quizzical with their raised eyebrows. When you squeak a silly toy, chances are your dog will put his head on the side and look very interested in the origin of the squeak. His eyebrows are likely to wiggle up and down as he wonders if this is a new game to play. The raised eyebrows are a sign of anticipation and happiness.
Other Solutions and Considerations
When you feel a bit discouraged, and your dog puts his paw on your lap as he looks at you with raised eyebrows, you are bound to feel more cheerful. Dogs seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to tuning into our emotions. Who can resist the ‘I’m sorry for you’ expression on your dog’s face. That little raised eyebrow look is destined to make you feel better. This expression is not food driven and so it is a real attempt by your dog to communicate and relate to you. It is a genuine effort to reach past communication barriers and get you to soften your heart. Your dog really wants to be your best friend.
Songs have been written about puppy love and poems about the affection of our dogs. It is so comforting to know that whatever you may do or be, your dog just loves who you are. Treat him right and his soft raised eyebrow expression pays tribute to that love. Inspirational quotes poet, Douglas Mallock wrote: "Thorns may hurt you, men desert you, sunlight turn to fog. But you’re never friendless ever if you have a dog!"