At least four independent traits affect dogs’ ability to make eye contact with humans

Shorter-headed dogs, visually cooperative breeds, younger and playful dogs make quicker eye contact. Credit: Eniko Kubinyi

Eye contact between dog and owner

This research emphasizes that there are many factors that affect the way dogs and humans communicate. It also sheds new light on our knowledge of shortnose dogs. Many researchers, including Konrad Lorenz, have suggested that these dogs were selected for their baby-like facial appearance. However, it is also plausible that people preferred individuals who were more attentive to them and watched them for longer, making communication easier. Credit: Tamas Farago

Shorter-headed dogs, visually cooperative breeds, younger and playful dogs make quicker eye contact.

According to new research from Hungarian ethologists, at least four independent traits affect dogs’ ability to make eye contact with humans.

Eye contact plays a fundamental role in communication and human relationships. When we look each other in the eye, we show that we care about each other. However, we not only look at each other, but also our four-legged companions. According to new research from Hungarian ethologists, at least four independent traits affect dogs’ ability to make eye contact with humans. Short-headed, cooperative, young, and playful dogs are the most likely to look into the human eye.

Dogs have adapted perfectly to living with humans, and communication plays a vital role in this regard. They are sensitive to the direction of the human gaze, which helps them decide whether the message is addressed to them. Eye contact with the owner increases oxytocin levels in both parties, which plays a role in the development of social bond. However, individual dogs are not equally prone to making eye contact; The anatomy of the eye, the original function of the breed that is, the task for which it was bred, age and personality can also affect the tendency to make eye contact.

Dog eye contact experience

Shorter-headed dogs, visually cooperative breeds, younger and playful dogs make quicker eye contact. Credit: Eniko Kubinyi

“One hundred and thirty family dogs were examined at the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University. We measured the length and width of their heads because it relates to their vision, ”said Zsófia Bognár, Ph.D. student, first author of the study, published in Scientific reports. “Boxer, Bulldog, Pug and Snub-nosed dogs, in general, have a more pronounced central area in the retina, which allows them to respond better to stimuli in the central field, which can facilitate eye contact. with humans. “

In contrast, dogs with long noses, such as greyhounds, see a wide panoramic image because the nerve cells that process visual information spread more evenly throughout their retina. Therefore, if they have to focus on the center of their visual field, they can be more easily distracted by visual stimuli from the periphery.

In the behavior test, the experimenter first started the game with the dog. In another test, she measured how quickly and how many times the dog made eye contact with her in five minutes. “The experimenter did not speak and remained motionless until the dog looked at her. Every time the dog looked at her, she rewarded it with a treat. Meanwhile, the owner sat down in a chair, silent. We measured the time elapsed after eating the treat until the next eye contact ”, presented the test Dr Dóra Szabó, ethologist.

It turned out that the shorter the dog’s nose, the faster the eye contact with the experimenter. “It’s likely that they see the human face more clearly due to their particular retina, but it’s also possible that their owners look at them more often because their facial features resemble a small child, a strong signal to humans. For this reason, dogs with shorter noses may be more experienced at making eye contact, ”explained Zsófia Bognár.

The researchers also examined whether the original role of races still influenced the formation of eye contact. Sheepdogs, for example, are visually cooperative and follow the direction of the owner’s hand (stick) while working with livestock. In contrast, visually uncooperative sled dogs that run past the musher can only rely on vocal cues, while dachshunds also cannot see their owner in the underground struggle between life and death. Dogs with long and short heads evenly distributed in different breed groups.

As expected, dogs bred for visually guided work made eye contact faster than those trained by voice or selected for independent work. Surprisingly, the mixed breeds behaved in a similar way, even though 70% were adopted from a shelter. Maybe their willingness to make eye contact even helped them get adopted in the first place.

The research was part of the Senior Family Dog project funded by the European Research Council for research on aging. The oldest dog was 15 years old.

“We speculated that aging dogs would have a harder time controlling their attention and would be slower to move from food to looking at the experimenter’s face. That’s what happened. Since we pre-screened our participants for possible visual and hearing impairments, the slower establishment of eye contact seems to be a natural consequence of aging, ”explains Dr Eniko Kubinyi, the project leader.

This research emphasizes that there are many factors that affect the way dogs and humans communicate. It also sheds new light on our knowledge of shortnose dogs. Many researchers, including Konrad Lorenz, have suggested that these dogs were selected for their baby-like facial appearance. However, it is also plausible that people preferred individuals who were more attentive to them and watched them for longer, making communication easier.

Reference: “Shorter-headed dogs, visually cooperative breeds, younger, mischievous dogs make faster eye contact with an unknown human” April 29, 2021, Scientific reports.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-021-88702-w


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