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Communicating with man's best friend

17th July 2019

Researchers used to think that animals’ facial expressions were unintentional and not used as a way of communication. But that might no longer be the case. Could dog owners be missing important signs?

Many people look at their pampered pooches and think about how much easier life would be if they could tell you what they were thinking. While dogs can’t speak our language, studies show they are communicating with you on a different level – with their eyes.

Research published in the Australian Veterinary Journal showed that dogs respond better to non-verbal communication when they can see your eyes. Also, when you close your eyes or look away, they are more likely to do things they know they shouldn’t, such as stealing food.

While it would be easy to assume that dogs are using facial expressions at random, numerous studies show otherwise. In one study the behaviour of 24 dogs was analysed when they were offered human attention and food. If the dogs reacted to both in the same way, then it meant that their expressions were not being modifed for humans. However, the results showed that dogs responded with more expressions - and on a larger scale, to human attention with or without food, than to food alone.

Dogs can also use their eyes to their advantage, raising their inner brows to make their eyes look bigger, similar to an expression children make. Humans find this action adorable, making them respond in a very affectionate and protective way. This expression is so effective, many dogs using it in shelters find new homes far quicker than dogs that don’t.

It’s fair to say that most dog owners believe they communicate with their pets on some level. Put your dog to the test. Check out their facial expressions when looking at food, then when they see you. Notice any difference?