Humans have a unique bond with dogs and for most of the people who have these canines as their pets, it’s not just an animal but a part of their family. Dogs tend to understand human behaviour and communication better than any creature in the world. It is fascinating how even eye contact with dogs communicate the message and the process is seamless. Now, a study by Hungarian ethologists has tried decoding the factors that affect the ability of dogs to establish eye contact with humans. The study suggests that short-headed, cooperative, young, and playful dogs are the most likely ones to look into the human eye. Dogs’ compatibility to live with humans is unlike any other creature. The communication at times is just with eye contact as dogs are very sensitive to the human gaze. Forming eye contacts raises oxytocin levels in both parties which plays role in developing social bonding. However, the ability to understand and establish this eye contact is not alike in all the dogs and this ability is affected by various factors that include the anatomy of the eye, the original function of the breed, age and personality of the dog.
This latest study examined over a hundred and thirty family dogs. Researchers measured the length and width of their head as it is related to the vision. The research paper published in Scientific Reports found that the Boxer, Bulldog, Pug and snub-nosed dogs, in general, have a more pronounced area.
On the other hand, long-nosed dogs such as Greyhounds see a wide panoramic image because the nerve cells that process the visual information distribute more evenly in their retina. Therefore, if they have to focus on the centre of their visual fields, they may be distracted by visual stimuli from the periphery more easily.
The researchers also examined if the breed of the dog played a role in forming eye contact. For example, Shephard dogs are visually more cooperative in following the direction of the owner’s hand while visual non-cooperative dogs rely on vocal commands. The visually guided dogs made eye contact faster than those who were guided by voice. Surprisingly the mix-breed dogs performed well.
The researchers also examined this ability by the age of the dogs and found that old dogs were slow in reacting and establishing eye contact with humans. The research was part of the Senior Family Dog Project that was funded by the European Research Council. The oldest participant dog in this research was 15 years old.