This is not news if you’re my Facebook friend. You will notice that I photograph them sleeping, running, sleep-running, and about to slobber on my face. I’ve even made a Haiku Deck presentation about what I would do if I were a dog, where I list the rules I would change or institute if I were of the canine species.
[Click on image to go to presentation]
I realise my obsession takes me into crazy dog lady territory but I don’t really care.
As much as I love my dogs though, I know that I don’t bring quite the same passion to the equation that they do.
My dogs watch me in my kitchen from the back door. Ardently. I can just be sitting at the kitchen table, writing on my laptop, and they're there, watching me as if I'm doing the most fascinating thing in the world. Roxy (the working dog/Kelpie), always keeps an eye on my feet to monitor which way I will go next. This is what I imagine she’s saying to Tilly (the silly Groodle):
Roxy, to Tilly: Hey, Tills!
Tilly: Ruh, what?
Roxy: Check out her feet.
Tilly’s like: Yeah! Feet! [Grins and stares at my face]
Roxy goes: Whadaya reckon she’s gonna do?
They place bets on which location I will check next: the fridge or the snack draw. Then they laugh and comment on how cute it is that I think chocolate might somehow have miraculously appeared since the last time I looked. LOLZZ.
(Is it disturbing that I think of them as small, furry humans?)
Roxy is particularly good at sustaining her gaze over long periods of time. She can be so ardent, in fact, that it borders on creepy. Tilly, on the other hand, takes numerous and erratic short breaks because she doesn’t have the concentration span to maintain a long, passionate watching sesh like Roxy. She finds herself chasing bees.
But do you want to know what really fascinates me about animals? It’s how they know to look into your eyes.
Have you thought about that too? Dogs will check your eyes frequently. If you have trained them well, they will only look up from under their eyebrows briefly then look away again because, for them, staring directly into someone's eyes is an act aggression. This is why, when you see two dominant dogs meet each other for the first time, they sidle up with their ears flat, necks and tails stiff and upright, and stare each other out. It can get intense. If one doesn’t look away, it ends in a fight. The one who looks away first is the loser. They will even try this with children and people they consider below them in rank. If you see a dog do this, you should reprimand it immediately.
Horses also watch your eyes for a bit, then look away. They hate it when you stare, as they find that very confronting. So when you meet a horse for the first time, give it lots of time to check out whether you’re a good animal or not before you gaze too long and lovingly at it.
Whales, fish, echidnas, chooks: each of these creatures, I've noticed, will look you in the eye when you meet.
And then there’s cats. If they like you, they will stare deeply into your eyes and then squint a bit, like: “Naw, I love you. You are doing a good job of keeping me happy.” They can do this from across the room and it’s like a psychic hug. You get this intense feeling of pleasure and you have every reason to feel pretty good about yourself because if you didn't meet favour, they would just pretend you didn’t exist. Cats are very good at training us to accept very little in return for our care, protection, pats, gourmet food, favourite pillow, and the spongy parts of our backpack when they don’t want to go outside to pee.
PHOTO: This is Juju sitting next to me on the couch right now. He only has one eye to squint with as he lost the other one in a cat fight several years ago.
This is my question: why are eyes so important in animal behaviour? How come they look into our eyes? Why don’t they look at our hands instead? After all, these are the parts of our bodies that do the most for them. Are they actually reading something about us from our eyes?
Apparently I’m not the first one to ask this question. Diving deep as I like to into internet research on topics like this, I also saw studies showing how humans and dogs are drawn to the right hand side of the human face. You will know this to be true for yourself if you think about past social situations. If you meet someone who has a crossed or damaged right eye, you will find yourself checking the left eye. But that is only after you have ascertained that the right eye is not accurately tracking or emoting. You may also find that sustaining contact with the left eye can take a fair bit of concentration.
This is even more fascinating and remarkable when you find out that dogs are also drawn to the right side of the human race—in a way that no other animal seems to be. Apparently humans don’t display their emotions symmetrically, and dogs, our closest companions, have picked up on this. Our right eye and the right hand side of our faces are more expressive, and by looking there dogs can interpret our thoughts and emotions more accurately and react accordingly. Isn't that mind blowing??
Click to view the YouTube clip: Can dogs sense emotion?
I love this fact. It explains the connection I feel with my dogs and why they are so in tune with my thoughts and emotions. I also love that on the surface of it at least, there appears to be different cultural 'beliefs' amongst animals species about eye contact, much like there is amongst human beings of different cultures and personality types. There are animals who clearly think it’s a bit rude to stare, and others who creep you out with their intensity. There are those who use eye contact only when they are showing you favour or ignore you completely if they don’t approve of you ....
But then, maybe that’s just me, treating animals like furry humans again!