Are Puppy Dog Eyes Actually A Manipulation Tactic?

If you have a dog, chances they've thrown you "puppy dog eyes" more than once over the course of your relationship. You know the look — it's the one that weakens your resolve, melts your soul, and may even earn your pup that last piece of chicken off your plate. New research is showing, however, that there may be more behind that cute face than we realize.

While the exact history behind the domestication of dogs is debated among scientists, the BBC reports that wolves began to evolve into our loveable canine companions around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. The relationship began thanks to packs of wolves who would scour for leftover food around human encampments. The wolves who humans saw as tame had a better chance of getting those prized scraps, per the BBC. The selective breeding that then took place over many centuries is how dogs ended up carving out a special spot in our hearts and homes (via U.S. News & World Report). But what about those infamous puppy dog eyes? New research indicates that sweet face may in fact be a sophisticated manipulation tactic.

How dogs use cuteness to their advantage

The evolution of the relationship between man and beast is thanks to a particularly clever survival tactic among the ancestors of our four-legged best friends, per BBC. New research is showing that those heart-melting puppy dog eyes may have similar intentions. While wolves' tameness and lack of aggression carved out a spot for their descendants to become cherished members of many families, researchers have found that dogs' facial muscles evolved for similar reasons as well. 

A study by the American Association for Anatomy explained that dogs have certain facial muscles that make them look cute — a characteristic they intentionally use to get what they want (via U.S. News & World Report). These muscles, called mimetic muscles, are supported by fast-moving muscle fibers and help us make facial expressions. While wolves have these muscles, they do not have as many as dogs do. The more of these fast-moving fibers you have, the more expressive you are, which is why dogs can throw us those puppy dog eyes while their wolf ancestors cannot, per U.S. News & World Report. Senior study author, Anne Burrows, explained to U.S. News & World Report, "Throughout the domestication process, humans may have bred dogs selectively based on facial expressions that were similar to their own, and over time, dog muscles could have evolved to become 'faster,' further benefiting communication between dogs and humans."