The power of 'puppy dog eyes' explained

Puppy dog eyes
© Lilla Czesznak

The gaze between human and dog can share physiological properties similar to that of mother and infant, a new study finds.

Anyone who has ever had a close relationship with a dog knows the deal: The “man’s best friend” thing is for real. And science has been slowly working to back it up. Studies have shown that positive interactions between people and their canines can be beneficial for both. And in fact, increases in endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine – the neurochemicals connected with happiness and bonding – are evident in both dogs and people after petting and playing together.

Now a new study takes a further look at the bonding that occurs between people and their dogs. Led by Miho Nagasawa of Azabu University in Japan, the researcher had previously discovered that owners of dogs who share a long mutual gaze had higher levels of oxytocin in their urine than owners of dogs having a shorter gaze. Ocytocin is also known as the “cuddle hormone” and is believed to lead to social and maternal bonding.

But with Nagasawa’s latest research, she looks at whether a dog and human’s gaze affects not just the owner’s oxytocin levels, but the pooch’s as well. To determine this, she and her colleagues collected urine from 30 dog-and-owner pairs before and after a 30-minute interaction. They found that owners whose dogs showed the most eye contact had a notable boost in oxytocin concentration. But wonderfully, they also found a similar increase in the neurochemical in the dogs – the dogs are made as happy as we are.

What does it mean? Basically, that the gaze between dogs and the people who love them creates a very similar physiological profile to the relationship between mothers and babies – which could go far in helping to understand how deep the bond can be between human and dog.

Nagasawa recommends that “dog owners not just say commands at their dogs, but to build up the relationship [and] consider the potentially beneficial role that mutual gaze can hold.”

And remember when it comes to those puppy dog eyes, resistance is futile – but the feeling is mutual.

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