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Why Do Dogs Do “Puppy Eyes?” 5 Possible Reasons

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

pomeranian dog smiling while lying on the floor

Few things are more endearing and irresistible to a pet owner than “puppy eyes” or “puppy dog eyes”. When dogs do this, they raise their eyebrows and increase the size of their eyes, giving a sweet look that can easily manipulate their owners.

There are many reasons dogs may hit you with “puppy eyes”. Here are the five reasons and what they mean.

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The 5 Reasons the Dogs Do “Puppy Eyes”

1. Begging for Food

Dogs tend to instinctively give puppy eyes when they’re being looked at. If that occurs when they’re given food, that’s a naturally reinforced behavior. They learn that giving puppy eyes gets them treats—often table scraps—and that doing it again weakens your resolve not to feed them from the table.

dog begging for food
Photo Credit: Anastasiia Tarasova, Shutterstock

2. Communication

Puppy eyes were once considered to be emotional displays, but studies suggest it’s a type of communication for dogs. In these studies, the facial expressions dogs showed were in response to attention from a person, indicating that they’re responding to the human-dog interaction with nonverbal communication.


3. Co-Evolution

Humans and dogs evolved together. Unlike other domesticated species, dogs have lived alongside humans for 30,000 years, giving them a unique ability to communicate with humans that other animals don’t have. Dogs do pay attention to how attentive a human is, leading to quirks like puppy eyes, which may have offered an advantage in the relationship.

owner petting a happy dog
Image Credit: Bachkova Natalia, Shutterstock

4. Our Reaction

Most people are vulnerable to puppy dog eyes because we perceive it as more infant-like or child-like. This makes us more empathetic to a dog as an innocent, child-like creature, leaving us more susceptible to manipulation.


5. Love Hormones

Dogs that make puppy eyes produce higher levels of oxytocin, the “love hormone” that’s responsible for reducing stress and helping groups recognize individual members. This is an important aspect of helping parents and infants bond and build a stronger connection. Dogs don’t use this behavior to form bonds with other animals, so it’s unique to their interactions with humans.

whippet dog doing puppy eyes
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

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Are Puppy Eyes a Bad Thing?

Puppy eyes can be a manipulation tactic, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. They’re adorable, and most dogs know that it triggers an emotion. Your dog may be looking for a special treat or a bonding connection, so puppy eyes don’t have an insidious motive.

That said, if you’re trying to break a habit like begging for food to avoid overfeeding your dog and keep their weight under control, puppy eyes can be a problem. In this case, the best way to curb the behavior is by showing more willpower and not giving in. The more you reinforce the behavior, the more it will happen.

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Conclusion

Puppy eyes are a unique evolutionary trait that dogs developed from spending tens of thousands of years with humans. They’re adorable and mostly harmless unless you allow your dog to manipulate you into harmful habits like sharing too much table food.


Featured Image Credit: pattarawat, Shutterstock

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