How to Tell if Your Dog Really Likes You

The next time you want to know how your dog feels about you, don’t focus only on the wagging tail. If he’s happy to see you, it’s written all over his face.

Scientists in Japan decided to investigate how dogs’ facial expressions might reveal their reactions to a variety of emotional stimuli when placed in an unfamiliar situation. The results of their study were published in July in the journal Behavioural Processes.

In the experiment, researchers positioned 12 dogs, one at a time, on one side of a partition. Each dog was able to observe through an opening what was happening on the other side. Scientists then presented each dog with certain stimuli — a stranger, a doggie toy, an item they disliked (such as nail clippers) or the dog’s owner — that the dog could see when a black curtain on the other side of the partition was opened.

The research team recorded each dog’s reactions by tracking facial movements. They marked the dogs’ ears, eyebrows and the points on the head directly between these markers. They then used a high-speed video camera to record the dogs’ reactions when they saw the emotional stimuli.

As it turned out, when dogs saw their owners, they tended to lift their eyebrows, especially the left one, within a second or less of getting a first glimpse. They often lifted their eyebrows when they saw any person on the other side of the partition, but the left eyebrow lifted markedly more often when dogs saw their familiar human companion.

Other results of this study were just as interesting. When the dogs saw a person they’d never met before, they shifted their left ear back just a bit. No particular eyebrow or ear movement was associated with seeing a doggie toy. However, when the dogs saw something they did not like (oh, those detestable nail clippers), often the right ear moved back a little.

“It is difficult to explain this difference in movement between the ears and eyebrows,” Dr. Miho Nagasawa, of Azabu University’s Department of Animal Science, told The Telegraph.

“Dogs’ ears are prominent features used to convey emotional expression, therefore our results suggest that dogs were more cautious toward unfamiliar people,” he said. “In contrast, eyebrow movement might indicate a visible response whereby dogs attempted to look at their owners more intently.”

This study seems to complement another released earlier this year, in which researchers determined that humans are pretty adept at reading dogs’ emotions simply by looking at pictures of their faces. In this study, 50 volunteers with varying degrees of dog experience looked at a set of photographs of one dog named Mal.

The photos showed Mal’s expressions as he was praised, surprised, reprimanded, angered, disgusted by medicine he didn’t like and made fearful by seeing a pair of those universally hated nail clippers.

The volunteers were most successful at identifying happiness in the photo taken when Mal was praised. They were least able to discern surprise and disgust.

The study leader, Dr. Tina Bloom, and her team believe that reading dogs’ faces came easily even to the volunteers with little experience with dogs because of a naturally evolving empathy. We may have an innate human ability to understand dog emotions, which has developed over the course of centuries. It could help explain why humans and dogs have been such devoted friends through the ages.

These two studies show that we humans can read our dogs’ emotions pretty accurately much of the time. Now, when we want to know for sure if our dogs like us, remember that a little lift of an eyebrow tells the real story.

Related Stories:

10 Signs Your Kitty Actually Loves You

Yes, Your Dog Knows What You’re Thinking

The Depth of Animal Emotions

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Tania S.
Tania S4 years ago

I know my dog loves me he shows it all over his face and body, he is a happy little Japanese Chin

Karen Gee4 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

B Jackson
BJ J4 years ago

It took a team of scientists to determine this? Maybe the money spent of this research would have been better spent on helping an animal shelter or homeless animals.

Manuela C.
Manuela C4 years ago

I don't need a study to interpret my dog's facial expressions!

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

ElegantGypsy Rose

answers followed: as they drifted into sleep and doggy dreams of a safe and happy tomorrow...they told me that they loved me, and always would. after all...why wouldnt they love the person who saved them from a live on a chain, in a filthy back yard...never knowing if they would be fed, never knowing when the next time they would have to fight to stay alive would be....
the little former bait dog said....thats silly momma....i loved you the day you laid eyes on me...because i could see were going to save me. i know it made you cry that it took longer to get me than you wanted...i could see you wanted to do it right then...but it was too dangerous. i always knew you would come back for me....and i was right...thats silly momma...i always loved you and i always will. go to sleep.

Pinke A.
Pinke A4 years ago

Our dog has been with us a bit less than two years now (after at least two homes before us) In the beginning she did try to escape every change she got. Just running around,but always came gladly,when we found her. She doesn't do it any more,we can let her go free while going to car,or back home.She knows now this is her home,we are her people.
She can sit next to me long,long time to be cuddled,licking my hand in a very shy way.Sleeping next to bed and when I wake up,she comes to say hello happily!
So,yes I do believe our dog loves,both of us!

Renata B.
Renata B4 years ago

These "studies" ... I don't know ... are they really necessary? Live with a dog and you will know their expressions, their reactions. Dogs (and cats and I suppose any other animal you are familiar with) can read your mind if you are attuned to them. They don't only understand words, but they understand sentences, not linguistically of course, but they do read your mind. It doesn't take much to try, it's enough to focus on the concept and visualise it in images in your mind. Since we have lost this ability it doesn't mean they can't do it!
You don't need scientists to take photos of the expressions of the dogs, come on!!! And I suppose they get grants for this. Better this than vivisection, but really ...