Why does your pet pooch make puppy-dog eyes?

dog evolution, dogs, dogs eyes -

Why does your pet pooch make puppy-dog eyes?

Last month we talked about the various reasons that your dog might stare at you, so this month we were fascinated to discover an article about why your dog might make ‘puppy-dog eyes’ at you and what they are really trying to tell you when they do it! 

According to Professor Anne Burrows from Duquesne University our dogs are much more expressive nowadays than they would have been when they were still living in the wild and it is all down to their domestication and interaction with us humans.

Her research has revealed that dogs have gradually evolved to give us that ‘puppy-dog eyes’ expression. The one that means we end up giving them our last biscuit – or if they helped themselves to it, that we won’t stay mad at them for long!

Professor Burrows has studied modern dogs alongside their wolf ancestors and has discovered that they have an extra facial muscle which makes them capable of being more expressive, with human-like facial expressions which allow them to communicate their feelings to us more effectively.

Frenchie photo by Kindred Hues Photography on UnsplashFrenchie photo by Kindred Hues Photography on Unsplash

Talking about her discovery, Professor Burrows explains:

"Dogs are unique from other mammals in their reciprocated bond with humans which can be demonstrated through mutual gaze, something we do not observe between humans and other domesticated mammals such as horses or cats.

"Our preliminary findings provide a deeper understanding of the role facial expressions play in dog-human interactions and communication.

"These differences suggest that having faster muscle fibres contributes to a dog’s ability to communicate effectively with people.

"Throughout the domestication process, humans may have bred dogs selectively based on facial expressions that were similar to their own, and over time dog muscles could have evolved to become ‘faster,’ further benefiting communication between dogs and humans."

Expressive dog photo by Pavel Nekoranec on UnsplashExpressive dog photo by Pavel Nekoranec on Unsplash

So how did she make this discovery? Researchers at the university analysed the tiny little facial muscles – known as mimetic muscles – that both we and our dogs use in order to form our facial expressions.

When we move these muscles in our face, they use myosin fibres, known as ‘fast twitch’ muscles because they move rapidly but get tired easily too. This is why we can make our own facial expressions quickly but we can’t hold them for very long (like when you get a face ache from smiling or laughing too much!)

Compared to their wolf ancestors, our pet pups have more fast-twitch fibres in their faces, enabling them to make small human-like gestures, such as raising their eyebrows which endear them to us.

Puppy with puppy-dog-eyes photo by Mia Anderson on UnsplashPuppy with puppy-dog-eyes photo by Mia Anderson on Unsplash

Burrows initially started researching puppy-dog eyes with a team in the UK. They went into various dog shelters and filmed dog’s expressions when people were watching them. They found that the dogs who made ‘puppy-dog eyes’ at people were adopted far more quickly, almost as if they had evolved to become more adorable. She compared domestic dogs with wolves and found that almost all of the domestic dogs had a muscle which enables them to make that face, whereas the wolves did not. She hypothesised that somehow, through dog domestication, people were consciously or subconsciously choosing dogs with certain facial expressions, and they had evolved (perhaps unintentionally) through selective breeding over hundreds of years.

Does your dog have puppy-dog eyes? What other kinds of expression do they make? As always, let us know in the comments section below!


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