Yes, your puppy is making those absolutely adorable faces just for you. At least that's the takeaway from a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports. Researchers from the University of Portsmouth's Dog Cognition Centre studied 24 dogs of various breeds and came away with the first evidence that dogs move their faces more when they know humans are looking, according to a press release. Scientists have long believed the facial expressions of mammals are involuntary responses to emotions. This study shows that, at least for domesticated dogs, that may not be the case. "The findings appear to support evidence dogs are sensitive to humans' attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays." researcher Dr. Juliane Kaminksi says.
Researchers also found that presenting dogs with food didn't cause an increase in facial expressions—more evidence facial expressions are about communication and not emotion and also a sign dogs aren't using facial expressions to, as researcher Bridget Waller puts it, "intentionally manipulate the human in order to get food," the Guardian reports. However, the most common facial expression seen by researchers was a raising of the brow to create "puppy dog eyes." That a dog's most common facial expression is one that humans find cute could be important. “[That] tells us something about how domestication has shaped [dogs], and that it has changed them in order to be more communicative with humans, in a sense," Waller says.