Short-nose dogs make better eye contact than long-nose dogs, research has found. The eyes are more on the side of the head for long-nose dogs which results in greater difficulty in focusing on what is in front of them and therefore their gaze is less likely to be focused. Research indicates that most participants in the study managed to hold eye contact with a person but there was a clear difference between long-nosed and short-nosed dogs.
The researchers discovered that after 15 seconds about 80% of those with the longest noses had looked the scientist in the eye, compared with 90% of those with the flattest faces.
They also speculated that because past research has shown that holding eye contact raises oxytocin levels in both the dog and their owner, holding eye contact is good for bonding between the two. Oxytocin is a kind of love hormone which when present indicates that there is affection.
Another factor in a dog’s ability to make eye contact and hold it is the type of breed. Sheep dogs which are bred to follow visual cues are better at eye contact while Dachshunds, bred to follow auditory cues and diving into borrows to chase badgers, do less well.
There is a third reason why flat-faced dogs hold eye contact longer than long-nosed dogs. Their faces are like babies which is perhaps that is why they are bred like that. This means that people, their owners, are more likely to look at them in the eye because they are attracted maternally and paternally to their “baby”. If the person looks at their dog more often then the dog is more likely to return the gaze. The scientists also speculated that “they see the human face more sharply because of their special retina”.
Interestingly, the flat-faced breeds are doing very well during coronavirus lockdowns. They are certainly the most popular companion dog to be adopted at this time. One reason is because they are small and another is because they have a baby-like face, as mentioned. Cuteness counts. Perhaps a fourth reason is that they look at you for longer and more intently!
I note that there is quite a lot of speculation coming from the lead scientist and author of this study, Zsofia Bognar which comes from Hungary and which is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The lead author works at the Dept. of Ethology, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest.