Issue 106

Dogs Are Manipulating You With Their Eyes and Science Has the Proof

A study has revealed man’s best friend really does have the power to stir emotions in humans, even landing them a new home in the process.

The findings were released by UK dog adoption site, dogsblog.com and Direct Line Pet Insurance who undertook a study between January-June this year to discover if a dog’s facial expression really could influence the reaction of humans, inspiring them to make the biggest commitment of all - offering them a new home and place in their family – all because of their connection to a dog from a photo.

In 2015 a study revealed that dog owners form attachments to their dogs by looking into their eyes and how this simple act releases a chemical in the brain, oxytocin.

The dogsblog.com online study set out to take these findings one step further and find out what might happen without the physical contact – meaning the study would be conducted fully online with potential dog owners looking at photographs - and whether, as studies have previously suspected, the dog may be able to manipulate humans by making their eyes appear bigger, like babies by simply moving one eyebrow muscle, AU101.

Co-founder of the site, Ryan O’Meara said, “We wanted to find out just how much of a role photographs play in a dog’s rehoming success and whether there was a particular type of photo that could dramatically increase a dog’s chance of finding a new home quicker by attracting more interest from would-be owners”

As part of the study, the website selected 34 dogs to take part of all shapes, sizes, breeds and ages placing each dog in one of five categories – playful, quirky, happy, sad and one selected for facial expressions, specifically monitoring the dog’s eyebrow movement. Of the original 34 dogs, 20 completed the study after successfully being rehomed.

The eyes have it

The findings revealed that of all categories, dogs (like Oscar, above and Barkley, below) who moved their eyebrows making their eyes appear bigger, like babies, attracted a higher interest rate than all other categories – more than three times others.

Sad dogs drew more interest from dog lovers than happier dogs

Perhaps speaking to people’s empathy to dogs in need, dogs with sad photos finished in second place, while dogs with happy photos or which showed the dog’s in happier settings and circumstances, fell far behind attracting two-thirds less attention.


Ben's sad photo attracted interest from around three times more would-be dog owners, compared to Bambi's happy photo, below


Completing the study, dogs who appear quirky or playful finished in fourth and fifth positions.

How the study reveals more about our relationship with dogs

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, an expert in psychology and well-being at the University of Manchester says the study reveals more about our relationship with dogs saying, “There is a relatively close bond between dogs and humans, and it is certainly the case that humans look for nonverbal signs from dogs, such as eye contact and facial expressions, in determining whether we like them and they like us.

“This latest study reinforces beliefs that whether humans are in direct contact, face to face or looking at dog photos online, how we interpret the relationship we have or could have, with a dog stems from their eyes and facial expression when emotion is a factor.”


Gambit, Sarah Banshee and Darwin (three of the four pictured above) all took part in the study for their 'sad' photo

Are dogs deliberately manipulating humans?

On the point of whether dogs are deliberately able to manipulate humans using facial expressions, Cooper says, “Whether this is conscious or not, who can say - certainly, dogs read humans and humans read dogs.”

Debunking dog myths

The myth that dogs with particular coat colours attract more or less interest than others – the so called ‘black dog syndrome’ was also put to rest during the study with little difference noted between light and dark coloured dogs.

The research did, however, have one outlier, a cream Jack Russell Terrier cross dog named Jack, pictured above, whose happy photo drew more enquiries in a short period of time than the other dogs in the case study.

On this point, O’Meara said, “When we began our study I had a suspicion that happier photos and those which show the dog’s personality would take the lead based on my emotional connection to my own dog’s photos. However, the overall findings prove differently.”

Quirky dog Timmy found a new home

A dog named Timmy from the quirky category was so called because he was unusually pictured with a lookalike teddy. His photo drew one of the highest volumes of interest in the study but didn’t translate into enquiries.

His Essex based rescue say they suspect this is because he had an operation to his jaw and still has a slight malformation concluding his looks drew attention, but that’s where the interest finished for all but one family who saw him on dogsblog.com and have since rehomed him.

Prit Powar, head of Pet Insurance at Direct Line, said: “It is interesting to see that over time we are learning more about how dogs communicate with their owners. These new findings are exciting for dog lovers and owners alike, as they mark a step forwards in better understanding what feelings and emotions our canine friends are trying to express. From a human perspective, it is also fascinating that like with small children, dogs can behave in certain ways which can influence the way we act around them, and even contribute to which dog we believe will suit us as owners when searching for a new pet."

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