‘Puppy dog’ eyes came of dogged evo­lu­tion

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Jeremy Rehm

NEW YORK — What’s behind those hard-to-re­sist puppy dog eyes?

New re­search sug­gests that over thou­sands of years of dog do­mes­ti­ca­tion, peo­ple pre­ferred pups that could pull off that appealing, sad look. And that en­cour­aged the de­vel­op­ment of the facial mus­cle that cre­ates it.

To­day, pooches use the mus­cle to raise their eye­brows and make the baby­like ex­pres­sion. That mus­cle is vir­tu­ally ab­sent in their an­ces­tors, the wolves.

“You don’t typ­i­cally see such mus­cle dif­fer­ences in species that are that closely re­lated,” said Anne Bur­rows of Duquesne Univer­sity in Pitts­burgh, an au­thor of the study re­leased Mon­day by the Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Acad­emy of Sciences.

Dogs dif­fer from wolves in many ways, from hav­ing shorter snouts, smaller sizes and more ex­pres­sive faces. And un­like wolves, dogs heav­ily rely on hu­man eye con­tact, whether to know when some­one’s talk­ing to them or when they can’t solve a problem, like hop­ping a fence or get­ting out the door.

Bur­rows and her col­leagues ex­am­ined the eye mus­cles in the ca­dav­ers of six dogs and two wolves. They found dogs have a meaty eye mus­cle to lift their eye­brows and make puppy dog eyes. But in wolves, the same mus­cle was stringy or miss­ing.

The sci­en­tists also recorded 27 dogs and nine wolves as each stared at a per­son. Pet pooches fre­quently and in­tensely pulled back their eye­brows to make sad ex­pres­sions, while the wolves rarely made these faces, and never with great in­ten­sity.

The re­searchers be­lieve dogs, over their rel­a­tively short 33,000 years of do­mes­ti­ca­tion, used this eye mus­cle to com­mu­ni­cate, pos­si­bly goad­ing peo­ple to feed or care for them — or at least take them out to play. And peo­ple, per­haps un­wit­tingly, obliged.


A study sug­gests that over thou­sands of years of dog do­mes­ti­ca­tion, peo­ple chose the “puppy dog” eyes look.

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