Dogs Develop ‘Sad Eyes’ Look To ‘Get On Better With Humans’, Scientists Say

by : Lucy Connolly on : 18 Jun 2019 09:58
Sad eyes dogsSad eyes dogsFlickr/Wikimedia

It’s a well known fact dogs can get away with pretty much everything when they flash their puppy dog eyes at you.


They could have done anything – chewed your favourite shoes, torn your new passport to shreds as soon as it’s posted through the door, chewed your brand new table – and it will all be forgotten about as soon as they look at you.

Who can resist their sorrowful eyes?! You’d have to be a complete monster not to feel any sort of sympathy toward them, even if you were really mad approximately five seconds ago.

Dog stressedDog stressedPixabay

Have you ever questioned why your pet does it though? Does he/she genuinely feel sad you’ve just shouted at them, or do they just want you to be nice to them?


According to research, it’s definitely the latter as one study has found dogs’ eyes have evolved in order to help them get on better with humans.

In particular, they have developed a facial muscle allowing them to raise the inner part of the eyebrow, which in effect gives them ‘sad eyes’.

Scientists say this specific movement triggers a nurturing response in humans because it makes their eyes look larger and more infant-like, as well as mimicking the face humans pull when they are sad.

Puss in Boots ShrekPuss in Boots ShrekDreamWorks

The research was carried out by researchers at the University of Portsmouth who compared the anatomy and behaviour of dogs with wolves. Dogs were first domesticated from wolves 33,000 years ago.

The research – which was published in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – found that although the rest of the facial anatomy between dogs and wolves was the same, this solid muscle structure around their eyes was a feature only found in dogs.

As per The Independent, psychologist Dr Juliane Kaminski, who led the research, said:

The evidence is compelling that dogs developed a muscle to raise the inner eyebrow after they were domesticated from wolves. The findings suggest that expressive eyebrows in dogs may be a result of humans’ unconscious preferences that influenced selection during domestication.

When dogs make the movement, it seems to elicit a strong desire in humans to look after them. This would give dogs that move their eyebrows more a selection advantage over others and reinforce the ‘puppy dog eyes’ trait for future generations.


Anatomist Professor Anne Burrows, who co-authored the paper, described this ‘striking difference’ between dogs and wolves as a ‘remarkably fast’ evolution, adding it could be ‘directly linked to dogs’ enhanced social interaction with humans’.

Basically, next time your pup gets their sad eyes on, just know this is evolution’s way of manipulating you.

Obviously it’s still going to work because, as mentioned previously, we’re all suckers to the puppy dog eye.

It’s just science.

If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: Animals, Dogs, Life, Research


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNS) and 1 other
  1. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNS)

    Evolution of facial muscle anatomy in dogs

  2. The Independent

    Dogs evolved ‘puppy dog eyes’ to help them get on with humans, study finds