Why We Bond With Some Dogs More Than Others

Dogs have a reputation for being characteristically friendly and loving — (hu)man’s best friend, remember — but a new study has found that some canine companions may be easier to bond with than others, thanks to their propensity for visual communication.

According to researchers from the Senior Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, dogs that are snub-nosed, young or playful, as well as those that have been bred to react to visual cues (like shepherd breeds), are more likely to maintain eye contact. It’s this that helps to build that all-important emotional attachment with their human family.

“Eye contact is a very important signal for us humans,” the study’s lead author, Zsófia Bognár, PhD, told Yahoo! News. “It can enhance communication, cooperation and the relationship between dog and owner.”

For the study, which was published April 29 in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, the research team enlisted the help of 125 family dogs, putting them through a range of tests. In the first test, the dogs met an unfamiliar experimenter. The 10th test focused on the dogs’ willingness to make eye contact with the humans.

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The researchers said that shorter-headed dogs have a particular eye structure that enables them to maintain eye contact. This is because of the way their retinal ganglion cells get distributed due to head shape, which may allow for better processing of visual information in the center of their visual fields. Thus, they can focus on what’s in front of them more easily than dogs with long snouts.

Long-nosed dogs, like greyhounds, have widely-spread eyes structured to see what’s beside them (known as peripheral vision) as well as what’s right in front of them.

Short-nosed breeds include boxers, bulldogs, French bulldogs and pugs, but researchers cautioned against making generalizations within breeds or head-shape groups, since the size of the head varies so much in individuals.

Puppies and dogs with playful natures were also more likely to look directly into their owners’ eyes, the researchers noted.

The research emphasizes the point that many different factors affect how well dogs and humans communicate with one another. This study focused on just a few such factors, which may be potentially influenced by aspects such as the infant-like features of certain dog breeds and puppies. These traits, called “baby schema,” are considered more appealing to humans.

If you don’t have a pug, a pup or a playful canine, don’t worry. All dogs can be trained to seek eye contact, which could have a positive effect on your relationship with your pooch.