Skip to main content

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Portsmouth in England found that domesticated dogs show more facial expressions when a human is giving them attention, as opposed to, say, food. 

For this case, researchers studied 24 various breeds of dogs, ranging from 1 to 12 years old. All of the dogs, who were domesticated family pets, had their faces filmed to capture their expressions when a person faced them, as opposed to when a human was looking away. The same was done when food was brought into the picture. (The team also produced a tool called DogFACS, which allowed them to analyze the dogs' facial movements objectively.) 

"Dogs produced significantly more facial expressions when the human was oriented towards them, than when the human had her back turned to the dog," according to the report. 

On the other hand, the visibility of food "did not affect dogs’ facial movements and there is also no conclusive evidence that it affected any of the dogs other behaviors." 

Dr. Juliane Kaminski, a dog cognition expert who led the study, told petMD, "This goes against a long-standing hypothesis which claims that animal facial expressions are just involuntarey reflexes in response to being excited." 

While the dogs in the study did not produce different kinds of facial expressions per se, Kaminski noted that there were more facial expressions when a person was looking at the dogs. 

The study also allows humans to see that "dogs are very attentive to whether or not we are looking at them," Kaminski said, meaning that our attention toward them truly does matter to their overall disposition. 

In other words, don't just give a dog a bone, rather, give a dog a reassuring look. 

Image via Shutterstock 

Read more: Dog Brain Facts: Understanding Canine Cognition

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?