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  #1  
Old 02-15-2007, 10:57 PM
Young Scrappy Young Scrappy is offline
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Can Dogs recognize human eyes?

I'm sure primates recognize we have eyes and functionality of the eye. On that, they can presumably stare at humans. What about dogs? I always wondered if our dog is staring at us out of learned behavior or following a voice/movement.
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  #2  
Old 02-15-2007, 11:08 PM
pool pool is offline
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It seems to me they can because many dogs seem to move their eyes away if you look them directly in their own.
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Old 02-15-2007, 11:11 PM
Lissa Lissa is offline
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I can't say for certain. All I can do is offer anecdotal evidence which seems to support the idea that dogs understand the function of our eyes.

I have a dog who was abused when he was younger. He's very skittish as a result. Sometimes, he'll hop up on the bed beside me while I'm reading. If I pay him no mind and continue to stare down at my book, he'll happily chew, uninterrupted. However, if I glance over at him (without moving my head) he'll freeze, waiting to see what my reaction will be. It seems that he knows that my eyes pointed at him means that my attention is on him.

I also once saw one of my dogs steal a treat from another, so they seem to recognize one another's vision as well. Bean was chewing on a rawhide when she nodded off to sleep, leaving it laying on the floor in front of her. Polaris crept up slowly. Whenever Bean's eyes would open, she would stop moving, waiting until the sleepy older dog dozed back off again. Then, she would slink forward a few more steps. It seems to indicate that she knew that whenever Bean's eyes were open, Bean could see her and she would would stop Polaris from taking the treat.
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  #4  
Old 02-15-2007, 11:24 PM
Randy Seltzer Randy Seltzer is offline
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The current best-known canine behaviorist (at least in pop culture) is Cesar Milan, the "Dog Whisperer" on the discovery channel.

According to Cesar, dogs definitely understand human eye contact, and in fact, some dogs will use it to establish dominance. If they maintain eye contact with a human, they (the dog) are the dominant one. He posits that a properly submissive dog will not willingly maintain eye contact.
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  #5  
Old 02-16-2007, 08:59 AM
ZipperJJ ZipperJJ is offline
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I saw on a National Geographic special about dogs (sorry, that's my best cite) that one of the reasons dogs were domesticated is that they CAN and WILL make eye contact, as well as respond to facial expressions. Humans found this utterly endearing. It gave us a sense of trust and understanding between us and the dogs. We took them in, fed them and gave them someplace nice to sleep. It was a win-win situation.

The way National Geographic put it was that dogs figured out how to be cute and humans are suckers for cute.
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  #6  
Old 02-16-2007, 09:20 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Dogs and wolves use stares to determine dominance with each other. Dogs will look away if you stare at them (as I discovered as a kid with our dog. Rudyard Kipliong pointed the same thinmg out with wolves in "The Jungle Book". "Staring down" wolves was a mystical power Mogli had.)

It's been theorized that our pattern of white sclera + brightly colored iris + dark pupil evolved as a signalling mechanism long, long ago -- the "target" design tells you which direction something is looking, which is a pretty pointless development unless it's important to know which way the other creature is looking, and that can only mean that signalling is important. (No predator would evolve a trait that showed its prey where it was looking. No predator would make itself vulnerable to the "startle" effect of eye spots unless there was some other reason for those highly visible eyes)

There's no functional reason for our sclera to be white and our irises brightly colored -- plenty of other animals (rodents especially) have black sclera and black irises, so you can't tell which way the're looking (and their eyes are hidden in dark shadows, and so don't give them away).
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  #7  
Old 02-16-2007, 09:52 AM
John DiFool John DiFool is offline
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Hmm my Lab had no trouble meeting my stare consistently; while willful he still considered me
to be the boss. I'd say a high degree of trust would allow eye contact to not be a dominance
issue. Same thing for my mom's Shih Tzu. Most of the dog's I've had tended to pick up on a lot
of words and hence would stare at you waiting for you to say a "magic" word.

Last edited by John DiFool; 02-16-2007 at 09:53 AM..
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  #8  
Old 02-16-2007, 10:25 AM
nashiitashii nashiitashii is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John DiFool
Hmm my Lab had no trouble meeting my stare consistently; while willful he still considered me
to be the boss. I'd say a high degree of trust would allow eye contact to not be a dominance
issue. Same thing for my mom's Shih Tzu. Most of the dog's I've had tended to pick up on a lot
of words and hence would stare at you waiting for you to say a "magic" word.
My dog has a pretty large vocabulary of words she understands, and most of them are food words. She'll often make eye contact with you, and she does a lot of attempts at mimicry of human behavior. (For example, she has learned how to wink at people. It's a wee bit disconcerting.) However, with her, to have the proper effect of the staredown with me, it requires me to pointedly raise my eyebrow at her while staring to enhance the idea that I'm the dominant one. It's just a matter of having a more complex set of visual cues for her to follow.
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  #9  
Old 02-16-2007, 10:35 AM
Cabbage Cabbage is offline
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Not only dogs, but I tend to think many animals with vision can recognize an eye.

A few years ago I was walking around the Valley of Fires in New Mexico. I happened to catch the eye of a lizard resting in the nook of a boulder. The lizard stared me right in the eye, and I sensed that he/she was terrified of me. I decided I was going to look for a blade of grass to play with the lizard a little bit. The very instant I took my eyes off of it, the lizard ran away.

I know this is only anecdotal evidence, but it convinced me that the lizard could recognize whether or not I was looking at it.

Additionally, some animals (butterflies and moths in particular) have evolved eye designs on their bodies that protect them from predators (as I understand it). I doubt this would be very effective if the recognition of an eye wasn't fundamentally widespread among various animals.
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  #10  
Old 02-16-2007, 10:37 AM
ZomZom ZomZom is offline
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My four-month-old whippet puppy started making eye contact about six weeks ago. Previously, from the time we got him (at eight weeks of age) he would look at my hands instead of my eyes.

He's my third whippet in the last 10 years, and I suspect the other two did the same as puppies but I'm just more observant now. I think they first go for the movement and then eventually learn that "you" are the eyes, not the hands.
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  #11  
Old 02-16-2007, 10:39 AM
CC CC is offline
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quibble

In the interest of promoting scientific literacy, can we say it this way?...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ZipperJJ
I saw on a National Geographic special about dogs (sorry, that's my best cite) that one of the reasons dogs were domesticated [according to some speculation] is that they CAN and WILL make eye contact, as well as respond to facial expressions. Humans found this utterly endearing. It gave us a sense of trust and understanding between us and the dogs. We took them in, fed them and gave them someplace nice to sleep. It was a win-win situation.

The way National Geographic put it was that dogs figured out how to be cute and humans are suckers for cute.
Perhaps a plausible theory. Perhaps not. Dogs "figuring out how to be cute" is a concept that I think most biologists would have difficulty with. And why would humans be suckers for cute? What evolutionary advantage might it confer? A tendency to stay with their own young? Maybe. But, then, that might divert attention from their own young if it were applied to all manner of other babies, and that might work against one's own genes. With all reverence for National Geographic acknowledged, it's not the best scholarly source.
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  #12  
Old 02-16-2007, 10:58 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Quote:
Perhaps a plausible theory. Perhaps not. Dogs "figuring out how to be cute" is a concept that I think most biologists would have difficulty with. And why would humans be suckers for cute? What evolutionary advantage might it confer?
Actually, "Being Cute" conveys a immense advantage to the dogs, a concept evolutionary biologists would have no problem with. And the neotenous features of pu[ppies echo those of human babies, who are (as I've often said) are made to be cute so that their parents won't kill them, and will take care of them. That's only a little facetious. Another species taking advantage of our nurturing signals isn't unheard of in the animal world -- look yup cuckoos or various parasite species in the ant world. In tyhis case the dog isn't a parasite (usually) -- we obtained an advantage from having dogs (they helped in hunting and in protecting the home base). So, although it might have been prettied up and flippantly put, the ideas expressed in the NG TV special are certainly legit.
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Old 02-16-2007, 11:02 AM
Lissa Lissa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CC
Perhaps not. Dogs "figuring out how to be cute" is a concept that I think most biologists would have difficulty with.
I don't understand why. It's simple conditioning.

Dogs (and their ancestors, assumably) are intelligent creatures who are extremely attuned to body language. They would have learned quickly that if they did [this behavior], the humans smiled and might throw them a scrap of food. They would repeat the behavior in expectation of a reward. Even chickens will do that, and they're barely smarter than a tree.
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  #14  
Old 02-16-2007, 11:06 AM
Contrapuntal Contrapuntal is offline
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I have two Jack Russells and shared custody of a third. Often I will look up from my reading or whatever to find three pairs of eyes staring at me. If I make eye contact, the level of interest heightens (heads lift, ears prick up, tails go on alert.) If I make an inviting facial gesture, it's paws, tongues, and noses for everybody! Dogpile on Contra!

I am confident that they recognize my eyes.
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  #15  
Old 02-16-2007, 11:16 AM
Lightnin' Lightnin' is offline
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As I understand it, a lot of animals can recognize eyes. Wasps, for example, tend to sting more around eyes.

My dogs definitely look me in the eye- and if I correct them on something, like if I want them to move away from my food while I'm eating, they immediately break eye contact. They also get more excited when I look at them- especially when they want to go outside.
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  #16  
Old 02-16-2007, 11:24 AM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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My cat definitely stares at my eyes when she wants food, or when she's angry - the latter is a staring competition that cats do to each other, and the first one to look away has lost dominance. Many cats also pick up on the "slow blink" that they do to each other to show trust, even when done by humans.
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  #17  
Old 02-16-2007, 01:53 PM
Hirka T'Bawa Hirka T'Bawa is offline
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My dog will look at me straight in the eyes, yet will advert her eyes when she looks at my wife. My wife is alpha in our family.
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  #18  
Old 02-16-2007, 05:08 PM
iamthewalrus(:3= iamthewalrus(:3= is offline
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There's a lot of evolutionary pressure to understand the significance of eye movement, for anything that uses its eyes as a major sensory organ and has predators or prey that use eyes as a major sensory organ.

Knowing when something's looking at you that either (a) you want to eat or (b) you fear might want to eat you increases survivability substantially.
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  #19  
Old 02-16-2007, 05:29 PM
Elenfair Elenfair is offline
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In my training experience, dogs will make (and understand the various significances of) eye contact. My current service dog, for example, understands:

"Look at me" - which is an command that requires him to establish eye contact with me before we engage in a particular sequence of commands or activity.

A dominance stare - he will look away from me if I assert my dominance over him, especially over a toy, a treat, or another dog in our family pack. It's part of body language, yes, but we may start with locked eyes... and he will eventually look away and his posture will suddenly change, dramatically.

Following a gaze - this, I find incredibly interesting. We use it a lot in operant conditioning, with dogs, in more advanced training. When we teach a dog to, say, go out and touch a specific object but are not using ANY cue to get the dog to do so, we often will just stare at the object (say, something specific on the floor amongst other objects). The dogs will often offer us behaviors - all the ones they can think of - and get no response. Pirate does this. Then, I have often seen him look up at me, look at where I'm looking, look at me again, then work the problem out. He'll move in the general direction of where I"m looking, watch for some kind of confirmation he's getting closer, and so on. It's amazing what dogs can and do pick up from humans when it comes to these faint faint signals.

Think about it - many dogs can and do understand pointing. Many dogs understand the stringing of two or three commands, back to back, in random order.

And most freaky of all? Some are able to detect such incredibly minute changes in our overall chemistry that they are able to detect seizures before they hit. Not all dogs can do this, and we don't know exactly HOW some can, but man, what a skill. What a skill indeed.
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  #20  
Old 02-20-2007, 03:16 PM
Young Scrappy Young Scrappy is offline
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From this, I see the dog can learn the eye is major part of body language but does the dog instinctively know the human eye? Can the dog say to himself that I am going to stare at this person?
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  #21  
Old 02-20-2007, 03:27 PM
Liberal Liberal is offline
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I agree that dogs know when eye-contact has been made, but I'm not sure that qualifies as any sort of knowledge. Do they even know that eyes are for vision? Maybe it's instinctive, with the brain prewired to recognize eye-contact.
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