Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Why We Can’t Resist Puppy Dog Eyes

By Magdeline Lum

Looking into the eyes of dogs activates the hormonal response that bonds adults to babies.

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Dogs are renowned for their ability to interact with humans. There is an unspoken understanding between dogs and humans that is not matched by other human animal interactions.

For example, if you point at an object a dog will intuitively look at where you are pointing in an understanding that you are trying to show it something. This communication is not picked up by chimpanzees, which share 98% of the same DNA with us.

People and dogs also look into each other’s eyes while interacting. A wolf, the closest relatives of dogs, views this as a potential threat.

Science is beginning to unravel why people refer to their dogs as “furbabies”. The simple act of looking into the eyes of our four-legged friends activates the hormonal response that bonds adults to babies. Takefumi Kikusui of Azabu University in Japan has shown for the first time that this hormonal bonding effect can occur between humans and another species. It may also explain why dogs became companion animals.

The Kikusui laboratory’s main focus of study is how oxytocin plays a role in maternal bonding, trust and altruism. Research has shown that when a mother looks into her baby’s eyes, the baby’s oxytocin levels increase, causing the baby to look back into its mother’s eyes. This, in turn, causes the mother to release more oxytocin. This positive feedback loop creates an emotional...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.