If you’re a dog owner, you’re no stranger to ‘puppy dog eyes’ – that look your pup puts on when begging for a treat, walk or a little love and attention. But believe it or not, dogs have conditioned us to fall for those big, brown eyes. Really.
According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, dogs have re-conditioned their facial muscles "specifically for facial communication with humans," which includes the puppy dog eye effect. "The movement makes the eyes appear bigger, hence more infant-like and potentially more appealing to humans," the researchers said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. "This inner brow raise also resembles a facial movement that humans produce when they are sad, potentially eliciting a nurturing response from humans." What this means is that dogs have evolved to mimic our behaviour and have become masters in human psychology.
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The muscle that creates puppy dog eyes is not as prominent in wolves, suggesting it’s limited to domestic canines. The researchers also looked at wolves and their physical traits and noticed that their eyes have more of a leaf shape, when compared with the rounder eyes of domestic dogs, caused by a muscle in dogs that has widened over time. Previous work, much of it by the same researchers, has also shown that these muscles are responsible for enhancing positive responses in humans.
Dogs reportedly connect with us so much that they adopt our moods and mental health. So, if you’re feeling sad, chances are Fido is, too. Research that looked at the fibres on the fur of dogs and their cortisol levels found that higher levels in both humans and dogs indicates areas of stress and high anxiety, positively correlated between man and his best friend.
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Instead of relying on your dog to lift your mood, it might be worth creating a happy and calm environment that you can both enjoy. Next time your pooch gives you those puppy dog eyes when you’re feeling down, be sure to chuck them an extra treat.