What Can a Dog’s Eyebrows and Ears Tell Us?

By Linda Cole

Everyone should be able to read the body language that dogs use to communicate how they feel and what’s on their mind. Unfortunately, not enough people can tell if a dog is angry, friendly, timid, scared or indifferent. On the other hand, pet owners who know their dog well can tell by looking at them if they are sad, happy, confused, frightened, surprised, pouting or not feeling well. How? By watching their body language and facial expressions. Dogs also have a more subtle language they use to communicate with us, which includes their eyebrows and ears.

Eyebrows

For the most part, dogs don’t have well defined eyebrows like we do. However, some breeds – German Shepherds and Rottweilers for instance – do have markings above their eye where we perceive eyebrows should be. But dogs don’t have actual eyebrows; instead, they have a ridge above their eyes that can be manipulated in much the same way we use our eyebrows to express certain emotions.

When your dog raises his brows, he’s indicating he sees something of interest. Lowered eyebrows means he’s confused by a sound, or trying to figure out what you want. It can also suggest your dog is a bit angry. One eyebrow raised says your dog is questioning or puzzled. A pouting dog will lower his eyebrows, which says his feelings are hurt. An angry or suspicious dog will have his eyes partly closed, with his eyebrows pulled down.

Ears

How a dog holds his ears tells you his level of attention, and how he’s feeling about a situation or another animal. It’s easier to read a dog’s ears when they stand erect, but even breeds like hounds, with drop ears that hang down, can still be read; it’s just a little more difficult.

When a dog is being attentive, erect eared dogs pull their ears forward. Dogs without erect ears also pull their ears forward, but it’s more subtle. Laid back ears indicate a negative feeling, like fear, but can also mean they are listening to what’s going on around them. A happy dog with pricked ears shows his contentment by holding his ears forward, but in a horizontal position in what’s called a “wolf smile.”

Miho Nagasawa, an animal researcher from Azabu University in Japan, wanted to find out if specific facial movements, like the eyebrows and ears, indicated emotion in dogs. i.e., if the facial movements showed that the dogs were happy to see their owner or wary of strangers. Her team of researchers used high speed cameras to film the faces of dogs when they saw their owner or a stranger in front of them. She placed colored tags on the dogs’ ears and eyebrows to track their facial movements precisely. To remove the ability of the dogs to smell their owner, the canines were put behind a glass partition, and the people stood hidden behind a curtain.

The researchers discovered that when a dog’s owner stepped out from behind the curtain, the dog raised the left eyebrow almost immediately after seeing them, indicating dogs intently look at the person they have a bond with. When a stranger stepped out, they moved their left ear, which shows a wary or more cautious attitude towards someone they don’t know. If an item the dogs weren’t especially fond of was shown, like nail clippers, they moved their right ear. According to researchers, the subtle change in facial movements is a result of activity in the part of the brain that controls emotion.

It’s not always easy to catch the subtle cues dogs use to show what’s on their mind, but the better you know your pet, the easier it is to see and understand what he’s trying to tell you in the only way he can – with his body, yips, growls and barks. The movement of a dog’s eyebrows and ears may be hard to see, but both give us important information. So watch your pet’s eyebrows and ears the next time you come home from work, to see if you can decipher what they’re “saying.” Oh…and be ready with praise and some CANIDAE Pure Heaven dog treats to thank him for being your best friend!

Top photo by Marilyn Peddle
Bottom photo by Helgi Halldórsson

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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