Can Dogs See Facial Expressions?

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Introduction

It is the sweetest thing when dogs cuddle humans who need some extra attention after a difficult day. How do our dogs know to comfort us when we are sad? How can they tell when we are angry? 

When we are talking with other humans, we use many nonverbal cues in order to know how to act socially. If someone has a furrowed brow with their head down, you might wonder if something is wrong. If someone has a huge smile on their face with wide eyes, you might assume that they are happy. Do dogs make these same observations? Can dogs see facial expressions? 

Signs that Dogs Can See Facial Expressions

Dogs can read the facial expressions of dogs and humans! When dogs are playing together, they base their interactions with each other on cues that other dogs are giving them. When dogs have a relaxed face with their mouth open, other dogs know that there is no threat and they proceed to play with each other. They mimic the facial expressions of other dogs around them while they play. 

Dogs also mimic humans based on their facial expressions. When you give your dog an excited smile and look at him with open eyes and a relaxed brow, he will respond happily. He may even jump up in excitement. When you show your dog that you are happy, he'll mimic that happiness and respond accordingly. 

When you are sad, your facial expressions show negative feelings and your dog will react to that. With a frown, tears, or a look of despair, you are likely to be comforted by your dog. You may notice that your dog knows you're sad when he walks to you in a non-threatening manner and gives you affection. He may lean into you for a hug or start licking you. 

Body Language

Here are some signs you might notice when a dog is seeing facial expressions:
  • Staring
  • Head tilting
  • Panting
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you might notice if your dog is understanding facial expressions:
  • Mimicking Your Expression
  • Being Calm if You Are Sad
  • Being Playful if You Are Happy

History of Dogs Seeing Facial Expressions

The dogs we know and love today evolved from wolves over 15,000 years ago. The bond between man and wolf developed because they had a mutual need for assistance in hunting and protection. Wolves helped humans hunt. In return, humans fed the wolves their leftover food. Wolves provided extra protection to communities. In return, humans helped them stay safe, too. 

As their bond grew more and more friendly, some wolves began looking different than other wolves. They started looking more like dogs. These animals picked up some new character traits and retained some personality traits from their wolf ancestors. 

The more attuned the dogs were to the needs of humans, the more valued they were. This helped them continue on and give birth to puppies who have similar personality traits. Depending on the needs of their humans, dogs attempted to predict their actions based on their body language and facial expressions.

The more dogs were able to see facial expressions and react appropriately, the more skilled they became at this ability. The many dogs we know and love today respond to the facial expressions of both dogs and humans. 

Dogs will respond differently depending on their breed and personality type. Dogs who are natural hunters may take some facial expressions as clues that it's time for the action to begin. Dogs who are more affectionate and cuddy will use their ability to read facial expressions in order to comfort and love on their human. 

Science of Dogs Seeing Facial Expressions

Dogs use a combination of skills in order to determine the needs of their humans. They use their powerful sense of smell, their ability to read body language and facial expressions, and they use their perception of what a human's tone of voice indicates. 

Facial expressions really help dogs know what humans are communicating with them. When a human walks through a room by a stranger, the dog is more likely to focus on his human. However, when a dog can't see a human's face, he has a much harder time recognizing his owner and responding to their needs. 

Dogs have social recognition skills up to the level of a 2-year-old. Though that may seem quite young, 2-year-olds are more observant and receptive to social cues than you might think. Dogs learn how to read facial expressions over time. Some humans have different specific quirks in their facial expressions, and dogs pick up on the many faces of their owners as they get to know them more. 

Training Dogs to See Facial Expressions

Whether you get your dog when he is a puppy or an adult, he will pick up on your facial expressions quickly. Dogs navigate their world by building stronger relationships with their humans. They do this by paying close attention to the needs and reactions of their humans. When a dog responds according to the owner's needs, he receives a positive response. This tells the dog that he understood that social cue, which prepares him for future social situations. 

There are many benefits to training dogs. While dogs love to cuddle and play, they also benefit from structure. It gives them more stability and consistency, which makes for a happy four-legged-friend. Training dogs provides them with intellectual stimulation, which helps them understand the world around them even better. 

The easiest way to train your dog to see facial expressions is to spend time with him. Choose different activities to do together that will produce more bonding moments. Your dog will get to know you better and will have a better understanding of what you need. By introducing your dog to new people, he will pick up on different varieties of facial expressions and will have a broader understanding of human nonverbal communication. 

Show your dog how you are feeling by showing him your facial expressions. When your dog is staring at you, he is determining what his next action should be based on your mood. If you show your dog you are happy, and he responds in a happy way that meets your expectations, you can give him positive praise or treats. This shows your dog that he behaved correctly in that social interaction. 

Some dogs are more socially adept than others. If your dog does not respond to your body language appropriately, you don't need to punish him. Try to be patient and calm. Dogs pick up new things faster if they feel safe and comfortable in their environment. 

How to React When Your Dog Sees Facial Expressions

  • Show an expression that matches your mood.
  • Give them treats.
  • Give them positive praise.
  • Practise communicating by using your face alone.