Next time you’re wondering how your dog’s feeling about you, don’t just look at its wagging tail, try to spot more subtle facial clues they might be displaying.
Scientists have recently investigated how certain canine facial expressions and reactions vary depending on a variety of emotional triggers when placed in unfamiliar situations.
During the experiment, 12 dogs were positioned, one at a time, on one side of a partition, each dog able to observe through an opening what was happening on the other side.
Dogs were then presented with either a stranger, doggie toy, an item they disliked (e.g. nail clippers) or the dog’s owner — that they could see when a black curtain was pulled back.
Using high-speed video cameras each dog’s reaction on seeing these emotional stimuli was recorded by tracking facial movements, marking the dogs’ ears, eyebrows, and various points on the head in between.
Results showed when dogs saw their owners they tended to lift their eyebrows, especially the left one, within a second of getting a first glimpse. They often lifted their eyebrows on seeing any person on the other side of the partition, but the left eyebrow lifted markedly more often when dogs saw their familiar human companion.
When the dogs saw a person they’d never met before, they shifted their left ear back slightly. No particular eyebrow or ear movement was associated with seeing a toy, but when they saw something they didn’t like often their right ear would move back a little.
Dogs’ ears are great at expressing emotions often appearing more cautious towards strangers. However, eyebrow movement might indicate that dogs look at their owners more intently.
Reading dogs’ faces may come easily to us because of a naturally evolving empathy; an innate ability to understand dog emotions developed over time. It may explain why humans and dogs have become such good friends throughout the ages.
We can usually read our own dog’s emotions pretty accurately but when we want to know for sure if our dogs really like us, remember, a little lift of a left eyebrow tells the real story.