How Puppy Dog Eyes Evolved to Match Humans | WIRED

dogs are our companions but they're also living proof of artificial selection dogs have a unique relationship with humans they have co-evolved and have adapted to live in our human-like world around us they descended from a gray wolf like ancestors and they are one of the first animals if not the first animal to have been domesticated in the last 30 or so years we've seen a huge boom when it comes to studying dog cognition and dog behavior this is dr biozier a dog cognition researcher let's have her walk through some key canine communication behaviors you can observe at home that demonstrate our unique co-evolution with dogs [Music] wendy oh can i give you both snacks this movement that you see in your dog's eyes when they look at you when they gaze up staring at you lovingly wanting snacks we call it puppy dog eyes but in fact this is the eye musculature that we see more defined in the dogs we have in our homes and particularly we see this through the levator muscles that they have located just around their eyes it gives them more control in a sense over how they move their eyes so we can be very expressive in how we move our eyebrows just using them in conversation lifting them up and these muscles that are more present in our dogs that we have at home it allows them to kind of wiggle those little spotty dotty hairy bits that they have right above their eyebrows potentially making them more expressly communicative or potentially just making them a little bit more manipulative to get more snacks a 2019 study compared these upper eyelid muscles and found that they were much more prominent in dogs than in wolves except the siberian husky which is more closely related to wolves when you look at huskies and malamutes that musculature is less defined and actually more similar to what you see in wolves where those muscles are hardly present so basically we bred big cute puppy eyes into modern canines as humans our attention is drawn towards the eyes and so we like dogs that have large eyes another clear example of our co-evolution with dogs is that they seem to understand what we mean when we point to something research currently suggests that dogs outperform every other living species on the human given pointing task two choice object discrimination task is typically what's done to evaluate pointing comprehension in dogs and you can actually try this at home with your own dog the idea is that you have two containers both of which have treats taped on the inside so they smell equally like food however one of them will have an additional treat on the inside for the dog to obtain human experimenter will sit directly in front of a dog and give a gesture then you let the dog make a choice the one with the snack that you've pointed to or they can pick the other one andy good job so is this something that dogs have learned from us or has pointing been selected into them by living alongside us for thousands of years wolves potentially would not have a need per se to follow the human given pointing skill their environment may not consist of a human they may actually be more fearful towards humans and so the world in which dogs live really is a human focused one if we as humans use it to communicate with one another dogs that live alongside us could also benefit from understanding certain behaviors good job eye contact is extremely important in humans it's where we automatically first look when we look at other individuals and the eyes are extremely communicative this is something that is kind of unique in the sense that many animals don't expressly like making eye contact however if you were to try to sit at home and look at your dog and stare lovingly into their eyes odds are is that they'll look back at you so we have a very cool feature which is that our whites around our eyes known as the sclera they are white and this means that when you look from side to side that you can start to identify things like where an individual is looking this can be really important for communication and it's actually something that dogs have seemingly picked up on one way to show this clearly is the impossible task experiment you have a tupperware container filled with a toy and you don't lock the lid on the tupperware container in place let your dog explore have them sniff it out check it out and obtain whatever reward you've placed in there you keep doing this a couple of times just to make sure that they can get the snack and that the reward is solvable however when it comes to the test trial in the unsolvable paradigm the idea is that you lock the tupperware lid in place so that the reward is no longer accessible and you let the dog go and you try to see what do they do and what happens with a lot of dogs is that they actually sit down and will wait for someone to help them out and will make eye contact with someone who's available to make eye contact researchers have long documented that dogs understand when a human is focusing their attention on them you can try this at home you can grab a snack place it in front of you with your dog directly across ask them to wait leave it stare at them see what they'll do give them about 10 seconds i would say and see if they approach you and if they don't let them come and eat the snack okay then i would do this again put the snack on the ground but turn around and give them another 10 seconds and see if they actually eat the snack sneak so dogs pay attention to human attention they're aware when we stare at them they might even enjoy it thanks to the love hormones we both share when wendy here takes a look into my eyes what ends up happening is that we both have increases in lung hormones like oxytocin and dopamine and prolactin which you actually see in the maternal bonds humans have an increase as well when we stare into our dog's eyes dogs also have an increase in these love hormones as well and how do we know this you look at saliva samples so you have humans and dogs chew on various objects before and after interacting with one another and you evaluate differences in the types of hormones that are present in their systems when we interact in certain ways like petting or hanging out you see increased dopamine and oxytocin love hormones which means that it makes us feel good as humans and it also makes dogs feel good humans and dogs speak to each other with their voices and their barks respectively but a 2007 dog cognition experiment in hungary revealed there are six types of barks that humans can identify when a dog is scared or fearful another one was an excited bark while an individual was playing with the dog something's going on in the neighborhood where dogs are left alone but there could be more barks it could be that certain dog barks are intended for human understanding cats meow not to talk to other cats but essentially to talk to humans wolves are more likely to howl in a certain way and are less likely to bark and so it could be that that barking that you hear at home is actually something that is really intended for you as the owner working dogs like police dogs and seeing eye dogs have all been trained and seem to excel in language but even your average layabout could have a vocabulary of dozens potentially hundreds of words sit good boy most dogs are familiar with the words that are relevant to them and the words that are important to them sadie where's your duck okay good job so there's a great study that looked at something called the cocktail phenomenon wendy hi hi so when you call over wendy in a crowded room the idea is that wendy also pays attention just like if someone were to call my name in a crowded room my interest is piqued and i peek up just like wendy does when she hears her name in a crowded area so what about these tick-tock dogs like stella or bunny who seem to string together human speech by pressing a specially designed voice pad there's this big trend right now where we have dogs that have learned to push buttons that have a voice recording of the owner associated with them wow but like you know did she actually poop outside or something you know like you were saying it would just be nice to have a bit more context to these just so we know like what comes before what comes after yeah when they string words together i don't think we have enough evidence right now to say that they are understanding the grammar and the syntax that's associated with what those words mean however this could be something that over time we learn is actually what they're doing so are we as humans with our breeding practices artificially selecting for dogs with certain traits or is this something that they're able to learn easily in very early stages of life and throughout their individual lifetimes there could have been genetic predispositions for many of these things that we then also indirectly selected for or maybe even directly selected for and that have inadvertently resulted in dogs who are really successful at learning quickly so it could in fact be that it is not nature versus nurture that it is a combination of all of the above dogs are really going that extra mile when it comes to communicating with humans when it comes to understanding our body language fitting into our mold of what we want them to be living in the cities dogs really have to put up with a lot when it comes to living with humans and one of the things that's quite remarkable is the fact that dogs can understand and identify thousands of words and we as humans can only potentially identify six barks and so this discrepancy shows that we as humans actually have a lot of learning that we could do if we want to stand up to what our dogs are actually capable of understanding when it comes to us [Music] you

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