I recently noticed that dogs see directly into the humans eyes.
Clearly the same for wolves.
Why do they do it? Is is only for communication or affection?
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Many people (including myself) believe that dogs can read and understand human emotions. Studies attempting to look at this claim from a scientific point of view have shown that humans display emotions and feelings through their eyes.
It was found that when two people meet, they look into the right side of human face first and the same behaviour was found with dogs - dogs look at the right side of human face first as that side displays the strongest of emotion.
I recently watched a BBC documentary that was very closely related to this article and what I took away from that is the key why dogs are so close to humans are because they can "understand" your emotions and feelings and react accordingly, and they do that by reading into your facial expressions, esp. your eyes. (See the relevant sequence of the documentary on Youtube)
I cannot speak for wolves, but dogs at least seem to gaze into humans eyes to gauge our emotions.
The reason depends on the rest of the body language.
If the ears are down and the tail is up then staring in the eyes is a show of challenge to your dominance. Most of the time if you see this and tell the dog to knock it off (or what ever your method is) the dog will back down and that is the end of it. This behavior can be dangerous if the dog is exhibiting it towards children. It is important if you see that, that you correct it or you risk your dog acting out aggressively towards the child.
My pugs exhibit a behavior where they will get a sad face, pull their ears back, put their tail down demonstrating submission and look at me trying to get attention. Someone with a stiffer spine than I have would do well not to indulge this behavior because once you reward it you find that the dog will employ it more often. Trust me on that... Though I have to admit it is so freaking cute and really who can resist a pug looking pitiful.
The other frequent behavior I have witnessed is ears up and tail up because they want to play. Many times my dogs will exhibit this behavior by bringing me a toy they want to play with, or when I am absentmindedly playing with one of their toys. This is just their way of letting them know they want to play with you.
"Clearly the same for wolves" That is absolutely incorrect!
Dogs are the only animal on Earth that will look a human directly in the eye. Not even chimpanzees can do that. As far as wolves? Whoever posted that has been watching too many movies. Wolves do not look humans in the eyes nor do they have any direct companionship with humans.
This was proved via NatGeo special which specifically told the difference of a dog and a wolf and their human owners. The wolf, as much as you may want it to happen, can NEVER be bonded with a human. The wolf will ALWAYS be independent. The wolf has no bonding instincts as dogs do. It will NEVER happen. Dogs, on the other hand, bond easily with humans. They are the only ONLY species that will look a human in the eye AND understand facial expressions as well.
Dogs will share a long gaze with humans, for 30 or 40 seconds. This doesn't vary due to whether the dog was raised with the person being looked at. Dogs have 20/20 to 20/100 vision, which means they can see where the person they look at is looking. [Nagasawa, M., et al. (2015) "Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds" Science, 17:333-336] [Miller, P.E. & C.J. Murphy, (1995) "Vision in dogs" JAVMA, 207(12):1623-1634]
Although some cat owners insist they share long gazes with their felines, this has not been documented in controlled settings. All that's been shown is that some cats appear to share a gaze about as long as other domesticated animals do, such as horses (3-5 seconds.) A cat's visual acuity is between 20/100 and 20/200, which means cats do not see where the human's eyes are directed unless they are very close. [Miklósi, A., et al., (2005) "A comparative study of the use of visual communicative signals in interactions between dogs (Canis familiaris) and humans and cats (Felis catus) and humans" J. Comp. Psychol. 119, 179]
Besides humans, no other animal shares such a long gaze, with humans or each other. Dogs look at each other for long periods without triggering fight/flight cortisol response. Dogs are promiscuous and gregarious, scientific terms that mean they do not have social heirarchies, status-limited mating, or alpha dominants. This is completely unlike wolves and other canids. Genetic evidence pushes dog speciation back to well over 40,000 years, long before domestication. Dogs were dogs before humans were involved. It's very possible that dog capacity to share gaze predates domesication, and even encouraged it. [Coyle, B. M. (2018, October 30). How Dogs Domesticated. doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/9zxgd]
Because humans and dogs have had such a long symbiotic relationship, it started off with wolves that had a slightly 'no flight' response. As we evolved with 'our best friends', they slowly lost their fear of us because of the left overs... we had. Over time and selective breeding we have a choice of different types of breeds. Back to the question of whether they can make meaning-full eye contact, I have no doubt. I've had dogs all my life. That direct look has a lot of thinking going on. In dog terms, of course. Who is the smarter one?