Your puppy isn't looking at you lovingly just because he wants a treat. Scientists in Britain found that dogs alter their facial expressions simply when their owners look at them — regardless of whether food is available, per a study published Oct. 19 in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers monitored the facial expressions of dogs as their owners paid attention to them and then when the owners looked away, specifically examining the muscle that dogs use to raise their eyebrows and widen their eyes. This adorable mug is what people refer to as the "puppy dog" look.
Sometimes, the owners would hold food while trying to get the dog's attention, but the scientists found that while the pups expressed more interest when their owners paid attention to them, it didn't matter whether their owners were clutching treats or not. "This is a delightful finding that provides more evidence of how dogs draw us closer to them with their eyes," Dr. Brian Hare, a professor at Duke University studying canine cognition, told The New York Times in an email.
Researchers cannot know why dogs alter their facial expressions when looking at their owner, but they can determine that the look is independent of treats. So fret not: When Spike pulls those adorable pleading eyes, it's for you — not the rawhide bone in your hand.