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Why You Can’t Say No To Puppy Dog Eyes

Golden Retriever Dog Image by Walter Gadea on Unsplash
Photo by Walter Gadea on Unsplash

What does devouring a hamburger have in common with relaxing evenings on the sofa? If you have a dog, it’s likely hard to refuse your dog a bite of that forbidden hamburger or a place on the off-limits couch. It’s almost certain you’ll give in when he or she gives you those eyes.

You know what I’m talking about: puppy or not, all dogs seemed to have mastered the puppy dog eyes to wield over their haplessly in-love human owners who cannot refuse those eyes.

My dog gives me those eyes whenever he wants something: mostly food, playtime, or attention. When it comes to those large soulful eyes, I’m a total pushover. My dog might not be the brightest at times, but he sure knows how to get his way. Exhibit A: the acquisition of the entire sofa. Meanwhile, my parents and I squeezed onto two cramped armchairs while he leisurely stretched out on the sofa.

 

Dog Photo by Austin Kirk
Photo by Austin Kirk on Unsplash

That made me think of the phrase “puppy dog eyes.”

There must be a reason why when it comes to those eyes, we’re more hapless to resist. After all, Voldemort’s Imperius curse has nothing on puppy dog eyes.

It turns out us humans have likely unconsciously selected for the seductive puppy dog eyes through our selective breeding preferences. A touch of egocentrism to select for traits in a non-human animal that remind us of ourselves and babies combined with the fact that expressive eye contact is a tenet of human communication might explain this selective pressure.

Scientists have even coined a term for this phenomenon:

AU101 inner eyebrow raise

Research has even shown that shelter dogs who exercise their inner eyebrow-raising prowess (AU101) more often become adopted at higher rates. Domestic dogs, like the dog who went viral in the Ultimate Dog Tease video back in 2011, accomplish AU101 with an evolved muscle called the levator anguli oculi medialis that wolves and Siberian huskies (a dog breed more closely related to wolves than most domestic dogs) do not possess.

 

But how do those puppy dog eyes work their magic?

Research suggests that dogs have developed an oxytocin-gaze during their domestication from wolves. Yes, an oxytocin-gaze. Science Magazine even conducted a study where researchers collected urine samples after 30 minutes of human owner-dog interaction. They found sustained eye contact increased oxytocin levels by 300% in humans and 130% in dogs.

 

Human and Dog Eye Contact Image by CBS
An owner and her Labrador Retriever make eye contact photo by CBS

“Oxytocin… is also associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone[.]” — Medical News Today

 

Positive reinforcement explains the rest, and voila, our dogs have classically conditioned us into utter obedience (when it should be the other way around). Dogs have seemingly hijacked the oxytocin eye contact — a bonding mechanism that typically occurs between human parents and their babies — to perfection by inspiring the same nurturing feelings from their human owners.

And now you know why you cannot refuse your beloved furry friend when he or she gives you those eyes.

You’re biologically wired to be schmoozed by the oxytocin-gaze.

Of course, not all people may identify as dog people, but surely nobody is entirely immune to a dog’s charms?

Thumbnail image by Walter Gadea on Unsplash

  • Question of

    What do you do when your dog beseeches you with puppy dog eyes?

    • Melt – I’d let my dog eat my bacon
    • Consider – Maybe I’ll give an extra treat
    • Ignore – I’m above this oxytocin gaze
  • Question of

    Do you believe in the power of a dog’s oxytocin gaze?

    • Yes
    • No

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