A Look at Why Puppy Dog Eyes Make Our Hearts Melt

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adorable golden retriever with cute puppy dog eyes

It’s enough to soften your heart. Those puppy dog eyes looking up at you while you eat, and even when you scold them. Dogs know how to grab at our heartstrings. Those, all familiar, puppy dog eyes look up at us and remind us that this canine companion has us wrapped around their little paw.

This facial expression isn’t something that wolves do. They lack the eyebrow muscle to make the same expression. So how did those puppy eyes evolve, and why does that one look make our hearts melt?

Science is Cool! A Look at the Evolution of Dogs 

Over thousands of years, there has been a significant evolution in the world of the canine. From free, wild beings to farmworkers and domestic rat hunters, man’s best friend now rules the home and has a spot on our couch and in our hearts.

Puppy Dog Eyes: The Result of Dog Evolution

Dr. Juliane Kaminski, a comparative psychologist at the University of Portsmouth, led a study that discovered the evolution of a new forehead muscle called the levator anguli oculi medialis (LAOM). This muscle, when pulled, makes the eyes larger and gives a dog the “puppy-like” appearance. It essentially increases the cute factor!

Cute Eyes Have a Purpose: Dogs Depend on Humans for Survival

Domesticated pets depend on their owners for their basic needs. You know that look your dog gives you as you dig into a meal? That’s the one. When you scold them for chewing your favorite shoe, or after they’ve stolen biscuits off the counter – same sad eyes. Or when you don’t let them join you on the couch, there they are again! Talk about turning on the guilt.

cute puppies adorable black mix breed puppy

From Eyebrows to Sad Puppy Eyes: A Puppy Face Evolved to Resemble a Baby’s

Big round eyes, a broad forehead, eye contact – these features make your adult dog resemble a puppy. It inevitably shows dependance on you and requires a response where you feel the satisfaction of being the one that they need.

The Similarity Between Babies and Puppy Dogs

Paedomorphic (infant-like) features elicit a response that encourages connection. Just like a parent reaching out to their baby, your dog knows how to get the same reaction with their mournful gaze. Dr. Kaminski’s study found that “in studies asking people to select pictures presenting dog (or cat) faces, people prefer the faces that present paedomorphic features over others.” We’re attracted to the vulnerable need that this expression displays. 

Why We Can’t Ignore a Sad Dog with a Sad Puppy Face

As humans, we use the face as the primary communication tool. We read expressions to understand each other. So when we make eye contact with our furry friend, see their floppy eyes and raised eyebrows, we struggle to ignore their plea.

If you’ve ever visited an animal shelter, then you’ll know how hard it is to leave without taking every one of those adorable pups home with you. The sadness that this expression communicates is the number one reason why more dogs who look to potential owners with sorrowful eyes are adopted quicker than those who do it less often. This suggests that we respond because of our human desire to nurture and as a reaction to the oxytocin (the love hormone) that evokes a response.

cute cavalier king charles spaniel puppy smiling

Smiling Puppy or Sad Doggo: Your Pup is Communicating with You

Dr. Kaminski found in her study that “Dogs are more skillful in using human communicative cues, like pointing gestures or gaze direction, even than human’s closest living relative, chimpanzees.” Through social interaction between dog owners and their pooch, dogs have developed the tool to communicate with us. Their ability to make eye contact is something that gray wolves do not do. Domesticated dogs do not use their manipulative eyes with each other. It is reserved for human-to-hound communication. 

Interestingly, the Siberian Husky is the one domestic dog breed that does not have the muscles to shape puppy dog eyes. Possibly because they’re closely related to wolves and can win you over with their gorgeous fur and trusting nature.

Five Things Dog Faces Might Be Telling Us!

Chances are you’ll know what your pup wants from you. But here are some suggestions.

  • Food! Yup, they want what you’re eating, or their internal clock says it is supper time! So see it as their friendly reminder.
  • They’re scared. After thunder, lightning, or a scolding, your dog needs some TLC.
  • Love is all they need. If your attention has been elsewhere, your pup might be begging for some of it. So put your things aside and give them some quality time – go for a walk, play with them, or let them join you on the couch.
  • They’re mirroring your emotions. Your emotional support animal can often sense when you’re feeling down, and their sorrow-filled eyes are a way of communicating that they’re there for you.
  • They’re in pain. Look out for any other symptoms that tell you that they may not be feeling well. A visit to the vet might be in order.

adorable pup on carpet making sad puppy eyes

Being able to communicate with your dog is what develops the deep bond between dogs and their owners. So embrace those cute soppy eyes.

Common Questions on Puppy Dog Eyes

Do all dog breeds have puppy dog eyes?

Why does my dog look at me with puppy eyes?

Is my dog in pain when they show me sad eyes?

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