Do Dogs Have Eyebrows? The Surprising Truth Behind “Puppy Eyes”

Do Dogs Have Eyebrows? The Surprising Truth Behind “Puppy Eyes”

Do dogs have eyebrows? We probably never gave this much thought, but the fact that dogs developed the ability to lift their eyebrows may be why we love them.

We all find memes of dogs with eyebrows hilarious, with some pet parents drawing eyebrows onto their dogs just to see what their dog looks like. Indeed, many dogs already look like they have eyebrows, such as Rottweilers, who usually have two tan spots right where their eyebrows will be. Other dogs even have a few long whiskers above their eyes. Can we consider these dog eyebrows?

Before we book our Chihuahua for a brow tint and shape, let’s learn the truth about doggy eyebrows. Do dogs have them? If so, why? And how are they different from ours?

Do Dogs Have Eyebrows?

The short answer is yes, dogs do have eyebrows. We just aren’t as aware of them because they aren’t as apparent as on a human. But we’ll get to that in a second. Doggy eyebrows are actually one of the most critical parts of canine evolution. Just like humans, dogs have an ocular ridge above their eyes. As wolves evolved into dogs, they developed a strong muscle they use to raise their inner eyebrows that wolves don’t have. 

This ability to lift their inner eyebrow gives all dogs their irresistible “sad” face or infamous “puppy dog eyes .” An expression that mimics our own sad faces and gives even the toughest of dogs a childlike quality. But before we discuss why this single development is one of the dogs’ most important evolutionary steps, let’s look at some other aspects of canine eyebrows.

We mentioned above that many dogs have two visible markings on their coat, like thumbprints, right where their eyebrows should be. This is a lesser noticed coat pattern but important because it helps draw attention to this crucial facial feature. Breeds with eyebrows markings include:

  • Rottweiler, 
  • German Shepherd
  • Bernese Mountain Dog, 
  • Gordon Setter,
  • German Shepherd, 
  • Labrador Retriever,
  • Doberman,
  • And other breeds who come in Black and Tan colors

But you may also have noticed that your dog may have a cluster of long, wiry hairs on their orbital ridge. Are these their eyebrows?

Well, no, not exactly.

See, humans have eyebrow hair on their orbital ridge mostly to catch the sweat and debris coming from our forehead and stop it from getting into our eyes. But dogs don’t sweat (except on their paw pads), so these whiskers function almost like sensory organs. These are called supraorbital whiskers, like tiny antennas, feeling the environment around them. They help a dog reflexively close their eyes if something disturbs them.

Of course, a dog also has eyelashes to protect their eyes. It’s essential to keep this area clean of crust and tears with gentle, plant-based dog eye booger wipes. Eye hygiene is a vital part of dog grooming, including the lids. Speaking of which, do you know how many eyelids a dog has?

Dogs vs. Wolves: Why Do Dogs Have Eyebrows?

But let’s get back to the crucial point of dog eyebrows, why dogs have them, and why they’re so special. You see, because dogs developed the muscle that lifts their eyebrows, they developed a far more expressive face. It’s the part of their face that makes it so hard not to share your pizza when you’re met with those lifted brows and melting eyes.

Some experts believe we bred dogs for this expressive ability because it makes them more like children. However, they overlook another aspect of dog evolution. 

Firstly, unlike any other animal, there is a strong possibility that dogs domesticated themselves. This is because early wolves probably learned to scavenge from human camps during hard times and follow humans when they traveled. This may even have evolved into early hunting together. 

So being around humans probably benefited early dogs more than humans, and so dogs have played a very active role in their own domestication. They have worked just as hard to adapt to us as we have to change them to suit our needs.

For most of history, we bred dogs for specific jobs such as hunting, herding, and pulling sleds. There is no reason that most dogs bred over the ages were bred for their facial expressions. It’s true that we may subconsciously factor in facial expressions in companion dogs today. Yet, all dogs have a unique ability to raise their eyebrows, regardless of being pets or working dogs.

The answer to this is likely to do with how closely dogs are attuned to us. For almost all dogs, communicating with us is one of their primary goals. After all, their lives depend on us. This is why dogs are so empathetic and aware of our emotions and the tone of our voice. Since humans rely so much on our faces to express ourselves, it makes sense that our best friends quickly adapted to having expressive faces too. 

The most successful dogs were the ones that could most successfully communicate to us that they really wanted to share that slice of pizza!

But why is this such a giant leap in doggy evolution? Well, since we no longer use dogs as much for traditional jobs such as hunting or pulling a sled, they have increasingly had to occupy a new niche in our lives. More than ever, dogs are our companions. 

One of the reasons they are more successful at this than any other pet (40% of US households have dogs, and only 25% have cats) is that they do the most to communicate with us. And without those powerful lifted doggy eyebrows, the sad “puppy” eyes, dogs would lose one of the most powerful tools in their arsenal of global domination. 

In other words, having very expressive eyebrows is one reason why dogs are more successful than any other animal at being treated like human family members.

Final Thoughts

We don’t often think of dogs as having eyebrows, but in many ways, they do. Moreover, the fact that they can lift their eyebrows to communicate with us is probably one reason many think of our dogs as children. Eyebrows give dogs a wider range of human-like facial expressions we can identify with. So they play a vital role in how dogs became “man’s best friend.”

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.