It’s all in the eyes. They look up at you, imploring you to part with the tiniest morsel from your plate, a scrap really. Or they can apologise — express guilt and contrition — with just a twitch of the brow, a muzzle pointed downwards. Move over Mata Hari, the greatest manipulator of human beings has been our best friend.
Only the truly heartless — or the pathologically psychopathic — can maintain their resolve against “the look” that a canine throws at you at the dinner table, or after having chewed through an over-priced pair of patent leather shoes. But there is now consolation for those who have been defeated by the cuteness of their puppies. Research at the Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Portsmouth has proven that millennia of evolution have ensured that the very biology of dogs makes us vulnerable to their expressions. As wolves began to be domesticated by early humans, dogs developed a new forehead muscle — the levator anguli oculi medialis (LAOM). In a process that relies on “survival of the fittest”, the LAOM allowed dogs to generate facial expressions that human beings are particularly susceptible to, and which generate feelings of protectiveness and affection. In doing so, our canine companions have ensured that they are fed and showered with affection.
The question is whether the LAOM is just a physical advantage, or whether, as dog-owners claim, their furry friends are genuinely capable of emotional attachment. Anyone who has returned home from work to the excitable affection of their best friend knows the answer. And as manipulations go, things can be far worse. After all, it’s not like we are talking about cats.