Did Dogs Learn To Mimic Each Other’s Facial Expressions From Humans?

Written by: Jonathan Graziano

January 18, 2016

Do you ever make a face at your dog, only to have them make it right back? In my most paranoid moments I’ve suspected more than one dog of giving me some non-verbal sass in the form of a mocking expression. Turns out I might be right.


A massive discovery has recently been made in the field of understanding a dog’s everyday behavior. Researchers from the Natural History Museum at the University of Pisa have determined that dogs understand how to mimic each other’s acute facial expressions, a trait previously believed to be exclusive to humans and non-human primates such as chimpanzees.


This behavioral discovery will help us further understand how dogs learn from humans, as it is believed this behavior developed over time as dogs have become more and more domesticated.


According to a report published in Royal Society Open Science, scientists have “demonstrated that rapid mimicry is present in dogs and it is an involuntary, automatic and split-second mirroring of other dogs.”


Essentially, dogs have developed into animals who are capable of understanding and expressing empathy and it’s very possible humans are responsible.


For years humans have understood that dogs have a unique capacity for emotion, but never before has a study been conclusive enough to indicate that dogs are able to communicate with each other via involuntary facial responses.


A team of researchers working with the Unit of Cognitive Primatology and Primate Center in Rome, conducted a field test to study this newfound behavior in dogs. The scientists recorded various dogs playing at a park and studied their expressions, movements, and behaviors when the dogs would interact with each other. They concluded the dogs’ “rapid mimicry” is not a result of being trained.


These results are a huge step forward in understanding canine cognizance, but a significant amount of research has yet to be done before scientists can conclude exactly how this behavior developed. In the next few months, scientists are going to begin studying wolves and other undomesticated dogs who have not had constant exposure to humans to see if they show the same signs of cognitive empathy as domesticated dogs.

We can’t wait to learn what they find!

Featured image via @judasago

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Written by: Jonathan Graziano

January 18, 2016

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