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Dogs change facial expression when people pay attention

J. Kaminski, J. Hynds, P. Morris, B. M. Waller

Historically, animal facial expressions have been considered inflexible, involuntary displays of emotional states rather than active attempts to communicate with others.

To better understand how dogs use their face, this study tested whether domestic dog facial expressions are subject to audience effects and/or whether they changed in response to an arousing stimulus, such as food.

Twenty-four dogs were included in the study. Each dog was taken into a room with a person that it had never met before and were presented with four experimental scenarios: the person faced the dog and held a treat, the person faced the dog empty-handed, the person turned away from the dog and held a treat, and the person turned away from the dog empty-handed.

Dogs produced significantly more facial movements when the person was attentive than when they were not; for example, dogs were significantly more likely to make the classic ‘sad puppy face’ – raising their inner eyebrows to make their eyes look larger and more infant-like – when facing a person. However, food …

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