Look into my eyes: how dogs saw through man

Look that melts your heart is less a sign of friend­ship than strat­egy that set dogs apart from wolf an­ces­tors

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Henry Bod­kin SCI­ENCE COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Dogs evolved to com­mu­ni­cate with hu­mans through “puppy dog” eyes, re­searchers have claimed. A study at the Univer­sity of Portsmouth found that while mod­ern dogs have small mus­cles around the eyes that al­low them to raise their inner eye­brows, wolves pos­sess hardly any com­pa­ra­ble mus­cles. This led the re­searchers to con­clude that hu­mans nat­u­rally favour canines able to look at them with big, sad eyes, giv­ing them a se­lec­tion ad­van­tage.

THE next time a dog looks up at you with those big, soppy eyes and your heart be­gins to melt, be aware: you are be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by 33,000 years of evo­lu­tion.

That is the con­clu­sion of a sci­en­tific study that claims the raised eye­brows so beloved of own­ers is more of a sur­vival strat­egy than an ex­pres­sion of friend­ship.

The clues, its au­thors ar­gue, lie in a com­par­i­son with wolves, which dogs be­gan evolv­ing from af­ter they were first do­mes­ti­cated by Stone Age man.

Anatom­i­cal anal­y­sis re­veals that while mod­ern dogs have de­vel­oped small mus­cles around the eyes that al­low them to raise their inner eye­brows, wolves pos­sess hardly any com­pa­ra­ble mus­cles.

Such a stark di­ver­sion in what in evo­lu­tion­ary terms is a short pe­riod of time has led the re­searchers to be­lieve that hu­mans nat­u­rally favour canines able to look at them with big “puppy dog” eyes, giv­ing them a se­lec­tion ad­van­tage. Their find­ings com­ple­ment pre­vi­ous stud­ies sug­gest­ing big eyes trig­ger a car­ing re­sponse in hu­mans be­cause it re­minds them of ba­bies.

Sci­en­tists al­ready know that dogs’ abil­ity to read hu­man be­hav­iour and emo­tion is al­most unique in the an­i­mal king­dom, and there is grow­ing ev­i­dence that eye con­tact is cru­cial to this.

Dr Ju­liane Kamin­ski, who led the re­search at the Univer­sity of Portsmouth, said: “The find­ings sug­gest that ex­pres­sive eye­brows in dogs may be a re­sult of hu­mans’ un­con­scious pref­er­ences that in­flu­enced se­lec­tion dur­ing do­mes­ti­ca­tion. When dogs make the move­ment, it seems to elicit a strong de­sire in hu­mans to look af­ter them.

“This would give dogs, that move their eye­brows more, a se­lec­tion ad­van­tage over oth­ers and re­in­force the ‘puppy dog eyes’ trait for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

The re­searchers dis­sected the facial anatomy of four wild grey wolves and six do­mes­tic dogs, fo­cus­ing on a re­gion of mus­cle they called Ac­tion Unit 101.

They found stark dif­fer­ences in mus­cle fi­bre con­cen­tra­tion be­tween the species.

The team also com­pared the be­hav­iour of live wolves and dogs when ex­posed to hu­mans for two min­utes, find­ing that the dogs raised their inner eye­brows more and at a higher in­ten­sity than wolves.

“This is a strik­ing dif­fer­ence for species sep­a­rated only 33,000 years ago and we think that the re­mark­ably fast facial mus­cu­lar changes can be di­rectly linked to dogs’ en­hanced so­cial in­ter­ac­tion with hu­mans,” said Prof Anne Bur­rows, the co-au­thor who led the anatom­i­cal re­search at Duquesne Univer­sity, Pitts­burgh.

A study in 2015 showed that a shared gaze be­tween hu­mans and dogs re­sults in a hor­monal re­sponse in both par­ties sim­i­lar to that be­tween a mother and baby. Two years ear­lier, sci­en­tists proved res­cue dogs were more likely to find an owner if they raised their inner eye­brows.

Sur­veys have also shown that hu­mans tend to favour dogs with in­fant­like char­ac­ter­is­tics such as a large fore­head, as well as eyes.

“The AU101 move­ment is sig­nif­i­cant in the hu­man-dog bond be­cause it might elicit a car­ing re­sponse from hu­mans but also might cre­ate the il­lu­sion of hu­man-like com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said Dr Kamin­ski.

The new re­search is pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences.

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