Why Does My Dog Stare and Look Into My Eyes?
My dog makes eye contact. She is watching me, waiting...
So why do dogs look into our eyes? Is it chemical, aggression, or just a way that dogs have of begging? When working with other species they have a tendency to look anywhere but our eyes.
Even a few of the species that do look directly at you, usually the carnivores, look at the face, not directly into the eyes. (I know I am going to anger a lot of cat owners with that comment but I am basing this on my own experience. Personal experience is only “anecdotal” and since there is no way to prove it scientifically you can choose not to believe it and no one can tell you that you´re wrong.)
Dogs will sometimes avoid eye contact too if they are very submissive, not used to being around someone, if they are nervous, or if they are afraid. After a while, though, most dogs make and hold eye contact more than any other species.
Dr. Horowitz´s View
Animal behaviorist Alexandra Horowitz pointed out the difference between the gaze of dogs and that of other species in her book Inside of a Dog. She believes that dogs look at us for:
- our ability to give food
- clues about our emotional state
- information about what is happening in their world
Dr. Horowitz believes that the dog´s unique ability to look into our eyes and hold our gaze was one of the first steps in domestication.
Since dogs have been domesticated at least 10,000 years (and some scientists believe much longer, up to 100,000) this ability has been selected for and carried down for many years.
Why have they developed this ability? Why is it that when you look into a dogs eyes you feel that he is looking at you, that he is reading your intentions and feelings?
What Others Believe
Another study from Japan (April 2015) reveals that when dogs stare into our eyes it causes us to release oxytocin into our bloodstream. The oxytocin levels in the urine are increased and dogs can smell this; thus, they feel better by staring at us too. (Oxytocin is a hormone that is released when mothers nurse their puppies, so maybe the dogs stare at us in the same way that a mother stares at her own pups).
In some ways maintaining eye contact is its own reward. So, the more you stare at your dog, the more he stares at you, the better you both feel!
Is looking the same as staring
Looking into a dogs eyes is not the same as staring and most dogs can tell the difference.
Staring can be a threat in dogs and in other species. When someone stares at a dog, maintaining eye contact with no right to do so, it can make a nervous dog hostile or scared.
Sometimes the human does it is without even realizing it. Children too might do this without even being aware.
Some believe that a dog that looks back at its owner is challenging his authority as leader of the pack and numerous articles will tell you how to establish dominance by staring down your dog and discouraging his looking at you.
Most trainers no longer believe this and tend to encourage eye contact. Getting the dog to maintain eye contact is now an important part of training.
Eye contact in dogs is even a topic of research. Research in a university in Budapest using eye-tracking technology shows that dogs are as sensitive to their owner’s looks as small children are with their parents. They recommend that owners increase their eye contact with their puppies so that they can build a better relationship.
So What Is The Best Answer?
So why have dogs developed the ability to look into our eyes? It is about attention.
If dogs are really just thinking about food all the time, like some researchers think, it is just a means of gaining information about where the food is.
If dogs really care about what we think, they are looking at us because they want to know how we feel…and it must be true. I know what I believe.
Look into my eyes and tell me differently.
A. Miklósi, E. Kubinyi, J. Topál, V. Csányi, M. Gácsi, Z. Virányi , A simple reason for a big difference: Wolves do not look back at humans, but dogs do. Curr. Biol. 13, 763–766 (2003).
Miho Nagasawa,Shouhei Mitsui,Shiori En, Nobuyo Ohtani, Mitsuaki Ohta, Yasuo Sakuma,Tatsushi Onaka,Kazutaka Mogi,Takefumi Kikusui, Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds Science 17 April 2015: Vol. 348 no. 6232 pp. 333-336
© 2012 Dr Mark