Master of manipulation: The evolution of “puppy dog eyes”
According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the “puppy dog eyes” is a real thing that dogs developed over time to better communicate with humans.
The study involved dissecting the cadavers of domestic dogs and comparing them to wild wolves, who are the ancestors of dogs, according to news.com.au.
A separate part of the study had scientists videotaping two-minute interactions between dogs and a human stranger then repeating the same experiment with wolves.
This was done to closely track how much they use a specific muscle around the eye that produces an inner eyebrow raise.
The researchers found that two muscles around the eyes were routinely present and well formed in domestic dogs but were not present in wolves. The dogs also only produced high intensity eyebrow movements as they looked at the humans.
“It makes the eye look larger, which is similar to human infants,” Professor Anne Burrows of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, who was one of the co-authors, told AFP. “It triggers a nurturing response in people.”
As the movement is present in dogs and not wolves, “that tells us that that muscle and its function are selected,” she added.
The paper also puts forward two explanations for why dogs are trying to capture our attention.
The first explanation is that the eyebrow movement is significant for human-dog bonding “not just because it might elicit a caring response, but also because it might play a role during dog-human communicative interactions.”
The second explanation is that the exaggerated eyebrow movements expose the whites of the dogs eyes, which humans find appealing in other animals.