I have always wondered, from years ago when I had a Rottweiler, why it is that some dogs have brown dots above their eyes.
Domestic dogs belong to Group A below and it must be another part of a dog’s eye communication system. With my Rottie, his dark eyes in an otherwise black forehead would not be visible from any distance. However, with the dots the placement of the eyes can clearly be seen by another dog – or another animal for that matter.
To quote Wikipedia, ‘While dogs do not have actual eyebrows, they do have a distinctive ridge above their eyes, and some breeds, like the Labrador Retriever, Gordon Setter, Rottweiler, Bernese Mountain Dog, German Shepherd, and Doberman have markings there. A dog’s eyebrow movements usually express a similar emotion to that of a human’s eyebrow movements. Raised eyebrows suggest interest, lowered brows suggest uncertainty or mild anger, and one eyebrow up suggests bewilderment. Eyes narrowed to slits indicate affection for the person or animal the dog is looking at’.
I can’t find any answer as to why it is more important for some breeds to have this extra feature and not others. Maybe this would be a good topic to research.
Dr. Becker on Mercola.com writes about eyes and communication in canids. ‘According to the results of a recent study, your dog is communicating with his canine friends (and foes) using his eyes alone. And in fact, some of his facial features may be designed specifically for that purpose, including the coloring around his eyes, the shape of the eyes, and the color and shape of the iris and pupil. These are all elements of the canine eye-based communication system.’
She says that when your dog looks directly at you, he’s not only communicating with you. He’s receiving cues from your gaze.
She summarises research of the Tokyo Institute of Technology at Kyoto University in Japan. They compared 25 different types of canines and separated them into 3 groups based on their facial coloration and gaze:
Group A… species including wolves and domestic dogs, with clearly visible pupils and eye position, tend to live in groups. The ‘gaze signals’ help them to hunt cooperatively in a group.
Group B… species like foxes with clearly defined eye placement but camouflaged pupils tend to be more solitary or live in pairs – as do Group C canids. They only use eye communication some of the time.
Group C… species with fully camouflaged eyes and pupils. The all-dark eyes of animals in this group, such as bush dogs, blend in with their facial coloring so are more inscrutable so far as communication is concerned. The more social species within Groups B and C use auditory or other visual signals to communicate with each other like a cry or howl, or a tail flash. ‘This adaptation may help the Group B and C canines catch prey that can identify a gaze and escape before being caught’.
Just a final somewhat random observation. At one end Rotties have dots above their eyes to aid eye communication and at the other end traditionally their tails have been docked, robbing them of a vital communication tool.
Dog to dog eye communication is one reason for dogs kicking off with some dogs and not others. Here is the story of one such dog that I went to who was reactive to some dogs and ignored others.
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