If you own a dog you will have definitely been in this situation. Sitting down with some food, either takeaway or home-cooked meal, you begin to tuck in. You’re very aware you’re being watched, a pair of brown eyes at waist level gazing lovingly at your general direction. Your adorably daft dog, sitting attentively as you eat, hoping for a few mouthfuls of that lovely human food. It would be a faux-paw to deny, so of course you give in and watch them happily chomp down, first on a on small piece, then eventually on the rest of your meal.
You’ll be full of love for them, they’ll be full of your food. Then suddenly you realise you’ve been duped! Tricked! Conned! Hoodwinked, swindled and bamboozled all at once! They never wanted your love, only your food! Dogs only look at you lovingly for food you understand, just as you watch your dog roll over for a tummy tickle. Who’s a good dog? Not you, o fluffy Judas.
They were expecting to see more facial expressions when the dogs were offered treats…
But fear not animal lovers, for new research as discovered that your dog may not be trying to trick you. Research into animal expressions has revealed that dogs will look at you with love in their eyes, even if you don’t have any food to give. Bridget Waller and her team set out to study the ‘dinner table effect’, which she says refers to when dogs pull cute faces when looking at humans to get food and treats, because they understand us humans are suckers for their fluffy faces and can manipulate us to their advantage.
The team took 24 dogs and introduced them to a stranger in four conditions – offering them a treat or not offering them a treat while looking at them directly or not looking directly at them. Cameras were trained on the good boys and girls to record their facial movements, which were then analysed by the researchers. They were expecting to see more facial expressions when the dogs were offered treats, regardless of whether the human was facing them.
The supposed “dinner table effect” was nowhere to be seen…
To their surprise, they recorded very similar numbers of facial expressions and movements when humans were looking directly at the dogs when they were both offered and not offered a treat. The supposed ‘dinner table effect’ was nowhere to be seen. What a good Lab group.
Aside from the bad pun potential, this study is incredibly significant because it pushes against the assumptions that dogs manipulate humans for food. Instead it suggests dogs are attempting to communicate with us humans in their own adorable way. Moreover, the increased movements were especially noticeable when the dogs looked humans directly in the eye, which Waller believes further suggests they are really just trying to communicate with us and not beg for food.
It’s definitely not impawsible, but right now science doesn’t know for sure…
However it must be stressed that the study doesn’t reveal exactly what the dogs are trying to communicate with their expressions, or even if it’s an intentional reaction. It might be akin to you flinching at a sharp sound or your pupils dilating when you see something you love, such as a free seat on an early morning U1 or a pupper. Of course, it could be completely intentional on their part, confirming all dogs are furry balls of love and joy and want to share that with every human they look at. It’s definitely not impawsible, but right now science doesn’t know for sure.