Puppy dog eyes. Any of us who have ever stepped into an animal shelter will know exactly what I’m talking about. Big. Beautiful. Longing. And irresistable!
So, why do dogs do that?
I was really excited to come across a pretty cool study from the University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Centre which gets to the bottom of this question. They have actually been able to show that our pet dogs are able to make this ‘puppy eyes’ face, and yet wolves just can’t do it. They’re pretty much same animal, sharing 99.8% of the same genetic make-up, so why is it that a German Shepherd can make this face, but a wolf can’t?
Well, it’s all about talking to you!
Our domestic dogs have actually evolved to have a set of unique muscles around the eyes that their wolf grandparents just don’t have! These muscles work together to raise the eyebrows and make the eyes appear wider, for the express purpose of pulling on your heartstrings! That’s right, as much as they love snacks, the food bowl doesn’t get any puppy dog eyes, they are reserved solely for us humans.
RAOL - Retractor anguli oculi lateralis muscle
LAOM - Levator anguli oculi medialis muscle
We, as humans are highly expressive, and get a surge of happy hormones when we’re communicating with dogs who also have expressive facial features. So, the theory is that when we started taming wolves all those 33,000 years ago, we not only choose dogs which would help protect us, but also the ones that made us happy! This ended up working out well for the wolves who got the safety of our protection, as well as a steady supply of scraps!
Puppy dog eyes, an evolutionary masterpiece!