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Does your dog ever stare at you? If you’re not eating anything, there’s a strong chance that he’s trying to read your facial expression.

 

For a long time, many of us have had a hunch that dogs look at our faces to determine how we feel, what we’re going to do next, and when the next treat is coming.

Now, for the first time ever, researchers at The Clever Dog Lab at the Vetmeduni Vienna have published a study that serves as strong evidence that dogs understand the meaning of a smile.

Their test subjects were regular pet dogs, just like the ones that chill with us in our homes. Using a touchscreen, the researchers displayed photos of smiling and frowning people at dog eye level. The dogs in the first group were trained to touch smiling faces as they appeared. The second group was trained to touch the frowning faces.

 

Study: Dogs recognize human facial expressions

In a recent study, dogs were able to identify smiling and frowning human faces, even when the photos were split in half.

 

Despite a food reward, the dogs in the “frowny face” group were much slower to associate the photos with a treat. They were reluctant to approach human faces that showed signs of displeasure: a furrowed brow, a taut, downturned mouth.

The “happy face” group, however, was much more quick to touch the smiling faces. Even when researchers split the faces to prevent the dogs from getting fixated on particular facial features, the results were clear: dogs find smiling faces much more approachable.

It remains unclear whether dogs are born with the skill to identify human facial expressions, or if it comes from their experience with happy and angry humans. The researchers believe it’s the latter. They believe that dogs who have not lived with humans would test differently.

One thing’s for sure: your dog has this ability, and it’s a great way to add another dimension to your training.

Make eye contact with your dog, especially as you give him commands. While dogs associate prolonged staring with aggression, they respond well to a loving, friendly gaze in the eyes.

Smile when your dog makes you happy, and try not to let them see you smile when they do something adorable yet undesirable. While we know that they are capable of reading our faces, there’s no way of knowing just what they pick up – if your dog surprises you with his intelligence every day, you know just what I mean.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.