Have you ever wondered why some dogs have spots over their eyes, while others don’t? This genetic trait is more common in some breeds, but it can also skip a generation.
Having a pair of dots over the eyes gives dogs a bit more personality, but there must be some meaning to it.
In this article we’ll examine why some breeds have spots over the eyes and others don’t, and how they can help them to communicate among them and with their human family. Also, we’ll be examining the specific breeds in which characteristic is more prevalent.
Do dogs have eyebrows?
Very few dog breeds have eyebrows comparable to ours and the main reason for that is that dogs don’t need them. In humans, eyebrows serve a practical purpose, to keep sweat from getting into the eyes. Dogs don’t sweat like humans as they only have sweat glands in their paws.
On the other hand, eyebrows also serve to communicate feelings. On their own, those small patches of hairs over the eyes wouldn’t do anything, it’s the muscles underneath that do the job of moving the eyebrows.
Oddly enough, most animals don’t have such muscles (or eyebrows, for that matter). Dogs do.
They have one short and strong muscle that allows them to raise an eyebrow so to speak. Humans have two such muscles.
According to one Australian study, having muscles to move the eyebrows is a characteristic of highly social animals.
For instance, wolves, dogs’ distant ancestors, have more facial expressions than foxes which are solitary animals.
Why do some dogs breeds have spots over the eyes?
The spots you can see over the eyes of certain dogs are known as tan points. It’s a trait mostly seen in breeds that belong to the black-and-tan phenotype.
The black and tan color is dictated by a gene called Agouti. This gene comes in several versions, called allele.
The coloring and the markings on a dog’s fur depends on the specific allele he inherits from his parents.
This is a recessive gene, so the dog will have a distinctive black-and-tan color if the genes he got from his parents are of the same type.
The tan points can appear as pips over the eyes, on the sides of the muzzle, on the cheeks, on the front of the chest, or sometimes on the legs.
Some predominantly tan dogs can have black spots over the eyes, but this is extremely rare.
What purpose do the spots over a dog’s eyes serve?
There’s very little research on the role facial markings play, but it’s a known fact that dogs communicate a lot with their eyes.
Two dogs staring at each other is a sign of tension and potential trouble, whereas a dog looking away is trying to diffuse the tension.
The eyebrow muscle helps a dog make his eyes appear bigger, and so do the spots.
Another theory says that the tan points serve as decoy.
When a dog sleeps with his eyes close, the tan points might appear as eyes, at least from a distance, giving the impression that the dog is alert. However, that would have made sense long ago, before dogs were domesticated.
Nowadays, dogs use their eyebrows to communicate better with us. According to one study, dogs use more facial expressions when they’re ‘talking’ to a human then when their owner has his face turned away and not looking at the pet.
It seems almost as if dogs evolved this sort of mock-eyebrow to better communicate with humans.
Bottom line, if you’d like to have a dog with whom it would be easier to communicate you should choose one with tan points over the eyes, and here are the breeds in which this trait is more common.
 Australian Kelpie
The Australian Kelpie belongs to the herding dogs group. As they were originally bred in Australia where temperatures are high most of the year, they have short weather-resistant coats.
The predominant colors for this breed are black, red, chocolate and fawn. Most black Kelpies have tan points over the eyes, while chocolate ones have a pair of spots in a lighter shade. Their coat doesn’t need much grooming, but they do tend to shed a lot in spring, so regular brushing is recommended.
Kelpies are middle-sized dogs, weighing between 25 and 46 lbs. They make excellent pets as they are easy to train and very intelligent.
They’re also quite energetic and require plenty of physical exercise. Australian Kelpies are very affectionate with their human family, but not exactly kid-friendly.
There’s something intimidating about this big broad-chested type of dog, but Rotties can be very loving, and with proper early socialization, they make great pets.
Rottweilers are strong working dogs, weighing between 85 and 130 pounds. They have a short and coarse double coat. Rotties are black and have tan or rust-colored markings on their head and sometimes on their paws, right above the nails.
Their coat needs a good brushing every week, as they shed a lot. And they also drool a lot.
On the other hand, they’re excellent bodyguards as they’re very protective of their family and, contrary to what many people think, they’re good with children, too, especially if they grew up together.
Also, they’re quite smart, ranking ninth for working and obedience intelligence.
 German Shepherd
German Shepherds are ranked at number two on the most popular pets list, according to the AKC.
They’re quite impressive as they can reach up to 26 inches at the shoulder, so if you need a fierce-looking bodyguard a German Shepherd is just perfect.
While they might seem a bit aloof, they’re extremely loyal and will defend their favorite humans fiercely.
On the other hand, if not properly trained, they tend to get a bit overprotective, treating their family like the sheep they used to herd back in the day.
Most German Shepherds are black with cream, red or tan markings, so chances are they’ll probably have spots over the eyes, too.
They have a double coat of medium length. The outer coat is slightly wavy, but a quick brush every week will help keep it look nice and shiny.
 Bernese Mountain Dogs
With their slightly curly fur, the tan points over the eyes give Bernese Mountain Dogs an inquisitive and sometimes very funny look.
They have a double coat with longish wavy hairs on the outer coat. Most dogs of this breed, also known as Berners, are tricolored, having a predominantly black coat with white and tan markings.
Bernese Mountain Dogs have a friendly disposition and they’re extremely affectionate with both adults and children.
They make wonderful pets, but you’ll need to train them well since they’re puppies, otherwise you’ll have trouble controlling the adult dog which can weigh as much as 115 lbs.
When they do not get enough exercise, Berners tend to get bored and will manifest their annoyance by barking till they get your attention.
 Gordon Setter
Gordon Setters are best described with one phrase ‘Brains, beauty and bird sense’. They were originally bred as hunting dogs, specifically to retrieve quail and pheasant, so that explains the bird sense.
As for beauty, you only have to look at them to understand.
Their best feature is the black long wavy coat, which requires a good brushing every few days to keep it tangle free.
They have long hairs on the ears, chest, belly and legs and tan spots over the eyes, or maybe on the cheeks.
Now, for the brains. Gordon Setters are smart and intuitive, which makes them easy to train.
You’ll want to train them well since they tend to bark quite a lot and they also have a great potential for wanderlust. Make sure your yard has tall fences.
Dobermans wow with their regal appearance, the sleek shiny coat and the lean muscular body.
Their coat may be black, but also red, fawn and blue and almost all Dobermans have tan points.
You might think that since they have such a short coat, they don’t need much grooming, but they do shed a lot, so they require a weekly brushing.
Dobermans have a fierce reputation and since they grow quite large in adulthood, 60 – 80 pounds, they need good training.
If you don’t make it clear from the very beginning that you’re the alpha dog in the house, they’re apt to start behaving like they’re in charge.
These dogs need to keep busy every day and they require plenty of mental stimulation, not just physical exercise.
A Doberman can adapt to apartment living, but they’re way more comfortable in a house with a large garden where they can roam freely.
 Labrador Retriever
Labrador retrievers come in three colors – black, chocolate and yellow, but it’s mostly on the black ones you’ll see spots over the eyes, and not in all of them.
And in fact, these spots are so rare that I can’t find a photo of a Labrador with spots over their eyes!
The double coat has straight hairs on the outside, while the inner coat is soft and water-resistant. Once again, appearances can be defective and a Labrador’s coat, close to the body as it is, requires a daily brushing to get rid of the loose hairs.
Labrador retrievers weigh between 55 and 70 pounds in adulthood. They have a rather sweet disposition which makes them the perfect family dog.
However, keep in mind that they were bred as working dogs, so they have plenty of energy. They need physical exercise and they love to play.
If there’s no one to entertain them, they might find entertainment on their own, like playing with your slippers.
Also, Labrador retrievers need physical activity as they tend to become overweight rather fast if they spend too much time on the couch and only get down to get some food.