Ask any dog owner about the traits of their pup that make their heart melt and you’re likely to find “puppy eyes” is among the answers. It’s hard to say “no” to a dog who’s affectionately staring up at you. And the emotional impact of a pup’s gaze on their dog parent goes deeper than you might think.
We spoke with veterinarian Ivana Crnec, DVM at Veterinarians.org, to find out more.
The Science Behind Puppy Eyes
When a dog stares at their owner, it’s commonly believed that they might be doing so as a way to communicate. But Crnec tells Woman’s World that dogs do it for another reason.
“Gazing at each other [i.e. a dog and their owner] is not a proper form of communication. However, dogs pick up even subtle facial expressions and can learn a lot simply by staring at their owners,” she explains.
So, your pup is learning about your behaviors and habits just by sitting back and watching you. When a dog and their owner are both looking at each other for more than a couple of seconds, it’s associated with strengthening the bond between the two.
“Studies show that sustained eye contact between the owner and the pup results in an oxytocin spike on both ends,” Crnec adds. “Oxytocin, also known as the ‘cuddle chemical,’ is a hormone that supports happiness and social bonding.”
This goes to show the power behind those puppy eyes!
How a Puppy’s Gaze Compares to a Wolf’s Gaze
Want to learn another fascinating tidbit about this canine facial expression? It turns out that wolves also gaze — but the gaze has a significantly different meaning when they do it.
“Interestingly, the dog’s closest relative, the wolf, does not respond similarly — sustained eye contact in wolves is not linked with higher oxytocin levels,” Crnec says. “In fact, in this species, gazing is a threat display — a way of showing dominance.”
This clip from NBC Nightly News discusses how evolutionary psychologists discovered that over time, dogs developed stronger muscles above their eyes than wolves. Because of this, dogs are able to turn on those cute puppy eyes at any given moment.
Meeting your pup’s adorable gaze isn’t the only way you can feel more connected to them. Check out these three ways that your dog shows their love and appreciation for you!