According to a new study from researchers at the University of Portsmouth, dogs are more expressive when they know someone is watching them.
The study, conducted by researchers at the university’s Dog Cognition Centre, examined 24 dogs of different breeds during interactions with humans. During some interactions, the human participants would direct their attention to the dogs while, in other interactions, the humans would turn their attention — and bodies — away from the dogs. Facial capture software analyzed the faces of participating dogs under both conditions to see if any variations were present. The researchers found that dogs produce more pronounced expressions when they are aware that a human is observing them. When dogs are unaware that they are being observed, they tend to produce fewer expressions — even when engaging in behaviors that are likely to excite, such as being presented with treats.
“Domestic dogs have a unique history — they have lived alongside humans for 30,000 years and during that time selection pressures seem to have acted on dogs’ ability to communicate with us. We knew domestic dogs paid attention to how attentive a human is — in a previous study we found, for example, that dogs stole food more often when the human’s eyes were closed or they had their back turned. In another study, we found dogs follow the gaze of a human if the human first establishes eye contact with the dog, so the dog knows the gaze-shift is directed at them. This study moves forward what we understand about dog cognition. We now know dogs make more facial expressions when the human is paying attention.”
— Juliane Kaminski, PhD, Senior Lecturer, University of Portsmouth