Bob Bestler

Is your dog manipulating you? A new study has me wondering about my canine, Wasabi

So I’m looking at my little dog, Wasabi, and he’s looking back at me and I don’t realize what’s happening: Wasabi is secretly manipulating me with his eyes.

That’s right. He’s using two muscles in his eyes to once again melt my heart with a puppy-dog look.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. That old boy has finally slipped over the edge.

But no, I’m not making this up, people. I have all of this on good authority from researchers at the University of Portsmouth in England — researchers, by the way, who were aided by scientists from our own Howard University, Duquesne University and North Carolina State University.

They all got together to dissect and study the cadavers of two wolves and six dogs to explain why one species remained wild while the other became domesticated. Dogs, you may remember from your new-puppy guide book, branched off from wolves about 33,000 years ago.

What they found is that dogs have two thin muscles that turn their eyes into baby-like eyes, helping dogs bond with humans. Wolves do not have these muscles and, unfortunately, can only stare with eyes that are, well, a little bit satanic.

Over the millennia, dogs figured out how to use these little muscles to manipulate poor, unsuspecting humans. Their little puppy-dog eyes got us to feed them, to care for them, to take them to the nearest bark park.

This isn’t the first study to try to figure out why we love our dogs so much. In 2015, a Japanese study found that “gaze exchange between humans and their dogs led to a spike in the so-called love hormone oxytocin, similar to an effect seen between human mothers and their babies.”

I guess it’s how dogs got our attention in the first place.

In a separate study, researchers videotaped two-minute interactions between humans and dogs and humans and wolves.

According to a report in Yahoo News, researchers found that “two muscles around the eye were routinely present and well-formed in domestic dogs, but not the wolves, and only dogs produced high-intensity eyebrow movements as they gazed at humans.”

“It makes the eye look larger, which is similar to human infants,” said Anne Burrows, one of the researchers. “It triggers a nurturing response in people.”

I’m not convinced of the importance of this kind of research, but maybe it’s enough to explain why we love dogs and fear wolves: It’s in the eyes.

So I’m looking at Wasabi and he’s doing his best to manipulate me.

OK, OK, I get it, little man. I know what you’re doing.

Now get off the couch.

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