Like most dog lovers, you probably hate to see your dog make a sad face. At the same time, even though you feel bad, you also probably think it's the cutest thing in the world. Well, some new research has found scientific evidence of what your dog's sad face actually means.
A new study that has been published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that dogs use facial expressions intentionally to communicate with humans. The study also shows the importance of human attention during social interaction for dogs.
Most people know that dogs make a variety of facial expressions. The research set out to determine if these expressions are purpose driven (the way that humans communicate) or simply involuntary displays of emotion.
During the study, researchers at the University of Portsmouth in England used 24 dogs of different ages and breeds. Each dog was what most people would consider family dogs, with normal training backgrounds for pets. The goal of the research was to determine if a dog's expression changed based on current situations.
In one trial, a human unknown to the dog would face the animal. In another, the human turned away. The same trials would be performed again in the same manner but with the human holding a treat. In each of the trials, the human was instructed to remain still and not respond to the dog's action.
The study resulted in the finding that the amount of facial movement a canine has is heavily dependent on the position of the human. During the trials, dogs were much more expressive with the human facing toward them. Even though treats are known to arouse excitement in dogs, the presentation of one had little effect on the dog's expression.
Though this experiment suggests that dogs are indeed trying to manipulate humans with their expressions, It's impossible to know for sure what they are really trying to convey with them. For now, all we can do is compare canine expressions with the closest human expression that it resembles and speculate about what they are telling us.