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Eye love you, human <3

April 25, 2019

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Did you know that gazing at each other is good for you and your pooch? It’s part of a special bond shared between the two species.

One reason for eye contact between dogs and humans is that dogs use their eyes to communicate with humans in a unique way. They’ll look at you intently when they want something, wag their tail, and maybe whine a little. If they give you whale eye, with whites of the eyes showing, they’re anxious or insecure (although not in a dog whose eyeballs always show white due to selective breeding, of course). A dog being scolded will often slink away to make eye contact impossible, or, once you stop scolding, keep looking at you furtively to check if you’ve calmed down yet. Another example is if “your dog ducks his head or darts his eyes back and forth, you are applying what’s called “social pressure” and it is making him nervous,” warns Barker Behaviour[1]. “Try sitting in a chair or leaning back slightly to see if your dog relaxes.”

This behaviour is specific to the dog-human relationship. Dogs and humans have, in fact, co-evolved genetically to look into each other’s eyes. Where dogs use eye contact with other dogs as a form of domination; with humans, it’s is about connecting and communing, quite the opposite of domination!

That’s thanks to oxytocin. Oxytocin is a feel-good hormone associated with bonding and trust usually released when a parent looks into their human child’s eyes. When they look into their dog child’s eyes, something similar happens, and it’s believed that dogs knowingly or unconsciously adopted the human interpretation of this behaviour to ensure their place in the changing human household over aeons. Oxytocin is released in both species’ brains when human and dog make eye contact[2]. It happens more with dogs and humans than with wolves and humans, and wolves are dogs’ ancient ancestors. This suggests this genetic switch has ensured dogs and humans stay together, while wolves stay wild.

By blending communication styles over millennia, people ended up being the leader of the pet pack and dogs’ eyes will always give something back. As if you needed any more incentive to look at your lovely pooch.

[1] https://barkerbehavior.com/the-beauty-of-eye-contact/

[1] https://science.sciencemag.org/content/348/6232/333

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