All About Dogs

Why Do Dogs Have Such Expressive Eyebrows?

February 3, 2022

Fenrir’s (my Alaskan Klee Kai) eyebrows really crack me up!  Most of the fur around his face is gray, but his eyebrows are all white.  It gives him quite a distinct look.  I joke that if my dogs could talk, the one thing of Fen’s that my Papillon, Kitsune, would be jealous of would be his dignified brows.  Truth be told, despite not standing out quite as much, Kitsune’s brow game is pretty on point too.  Have you ever wondered why dogs have such expressive eyebrows when compared to most other members of the animal kingdom?

Did you know that dogs, like humans, use their eyebrows to express emotion?

Fenrir the Alaskan Klee Kai

See? Fen’s eyebrow game is always on point!

I suppose all dog owners will already know that, though.  Sad puppy dog eyes anyone?  Besides humans and other primates, there’s not a ton of animal species that use their eyebrows to outwardly express emotions.  Wolves, although social and highly communicative with each other, don’t express emotions with their eyes in the same way that our domestic dogs do.  In fact, domestic dogs have muscles in their eyebrows that don’t even exist in wolves!

That’s Evolution For Ya!

These muscles allow dogs to control their eyebrows in ways that wolves, and other animals, cannot.  Specifically, dogs are able to raise their inner eyebrows.  This movement opens their eyes wider, and makes their eyes appear larger – aka…puppy dog eyes!

Take a look at this study, Evolution of facial muscle anatomy in dogs, published in 2019.  If you scroll down a bit, to the results section, you can see a diagram that illustrates the difference in facial musculature between domestic dogs and wolves.

Basically, humans are suckers for puppy dog eyes.  Over time, we selected for dogs with more pronounced eyebrow movements.  Perhaps we can relate better to dogs who use their eyebrows in a similar way to how we use our own?  Or maybe we just find dogs who are more expressive to be cuter?

Having More Expressive Eyebrows Benefits Dogs.

Studies have suggested that shelter dogs with more expressive eyebrows are more likely to get adopted faster!

The study Paedomorphic Facial Expressions Give Dogs a Selective Advantage was published back in 2013, but the results are still really interesting today.  Researchers tested how facial expressions that enhance dog’s neonatal (childlike) appearance impacts how quickly they are adopted from shelters.  According to the study, dogs who raised their inner brows more often found new homes faster than their less expressive counterparts.  This is, theoretically, because manipulating their eyebrows in this manner effects their eye size and height, making them look more childlike, and thus cuter.

It seems like those puppy dog eyes, so famous for helping dogs to beg for bits of extra dinner, involve more than just the eyes themselves.  There’s some serious brow work going on too!

What do you think?  Comment below!  Does your dog use certain facial expressions to try to manipulate you?  Kit and Fen seem to have thoroughly perfected the sad puppy look.  It’s totally hard to resist giving them what they want when they give me ‘the look’.  I guess I have thousands of years of evolution to thank for that!

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  • Reply Cathy Armato February 4, 2022 at 11:10 am

    That’s so interesting, I never really thought about dogs eyebrows. I’m surprised that domestic dogs developed brow muscles & use expression that wolves don’t!

    • Reply Michelle & The Paw Pack February 10, 2022 at 4:35 pm

      Right? I was surprised when I learned that too! It’s so interesting that such a small change in tiny eyebrow muscles seemingly gives domestic dogs an evolutionary advantage.

  • Reply Beth February 4, 2022 at 5:42 pm

    I absolutely love dogs with distinctive eyebrows! My dog Theo has perfected the puppy dog eye look, and it is irresistible! Sadly, my other two dogs don’t have distinctive eyebrows.

    • Reply Michelle & The Paw Pack February 10, 2022 at 4:37 pm

      I’m sure they are still adorable, though! My Kitsune really knows how to work those puppy dog eyes, even though he doesn’t have very distinctive eyebrows either.

  • Reply Terri February 5, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    I saw the study you refer to a while ago. It’s really interesting. It certainly explains those puppy dog eyes and how all my dogs can wrap me around their little paws. I wish I could use my eyebrows as well. I always equate the move to a two-year-old asking for a cookie from the top of the fridge. That sad look saying, “I’m a good boy, mama. See how cute I am.” Yeah, it’s a stealth move we have no defense against. 🤣

    • Reply Michelle & The Paw Pack February 10, 2022 at 4:38 pm

      Lol yes! I always have such a hard time resisting Kit and Fen when they give me ‘the look’.

  • Reply Nikki February 6, 2022 at 10:36 am

    I had no idea that dogs facial muscles have evolved to allow to for expressive non-verbal community with humans! It definitely works! 🤣

    • Reply Michelle & The Paw Pack February 10, 2022 at 4:40 pm

      It sure does! I thought the study about dogs who express with their eyes getting adopted faster was super interesting. Apparently people really respond to this form of nonverbal communication.

  • Reply Ruth Epstein February 6, 2022 at 2:12 pm

    This is so fascinating and have never thought about it, thanks for opening my eyes to something new and teaching me. Now am going to look at Layla differently LOL

    • Reply Michelle & The Paw Pack February 10, 2022 at 4:41 pm

      Just remember when she’s giving you those puppy dog eyes, that’s thousands of years of evolution helping her to get what she wants lol!

  • Reply jana rade February 6, 2022 at 3:39 pm

    I certainly noticed their expressive eyebrows on my Rotties. They also have them prominently tan against the black fur. I agree that it’s one of the fantastic things to watch and learn to understand in dog communication.

    • Reply Michelle & The Paw Pack February 10, 2022 at 4:42 pm

      It’s so interesting! People who think animals can’t speak haven’t spent enough time observing animals, in my opinion.

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