Any dog owner knows how that long, sustained eye contact your dogs makes with you can make you melt from the inside out.
But, as we all know, dogs evolved from wolves. So how did this menacing glare:
Evolve into this adorable begging face:
According to research reported on by Scientific American, it seems to have happened in stages.
The earliest canines were probably making quick eye contact with humans. Somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, these ancient canines started hanging out around human settlements and breeding, beginning the domestication process.
Then, around 9,000 years ago, some of these kind of, sort of tamed dogs were taken to Australia, where they were released back into the wild, becoming what we know today as dingoes.
Then, finally, you have modern dogs — you know, all the cute and cuddly breeds we love and pamper today.
Researchers decided to test the hold that a dog's stare has on us by studying how human handlers interact with not only dogs, but also bottle-fed, human-raised wolves and dingoes from a sanctuary in Australia. The human handlers and the animals would interact for 30 minutes, playing, talking, and staring longingly into each other's eyes (for as long as the animal was willing to, anyway, which maxed out at about 40 seconds for dogs, 3 seconds for dingoes and less than a second for wolves).
Both before and after the session, researchers collected urine samples from the humans and animals to study their oxytocin levels. The shorter glances from wolves failed to initiate an oxytocin loop. But, the difference in eye contact between wolves and dingoes also points to something else — dogs evolved to look us in the eye and melt our hearts so we would help them survive.
"This suggests that even in the early stages of domestication, canids [the family that includes dogs, wolves and dingoes] may have already started making eye contact with humans, but it wasn't until later that dogs started gazing into their owners' eyes," Angie Johnston, a doctoral student of psychology at Yale University who led the study, explained.