The Eyes Have It
Making direct eye contact is an important part of human communication. But, in the dog world, it’s considered quite rude, threatening, and confrontational. That’s why you should always avoid staring down at a dog when meeting for the first time.
Even with these differences between dog-to-dog and dog-to-human interactions, dogs still use their eyes to communicate. However, while their eyes can say a lot, they’re only one part of a very complex canine communication system.
Dogs are constantly communicating through body language, sending signals consciously and unconsciously about how they feel and think. Individual pieces of this communication system include:
- Tail position and movement
- Hackles (hair along the back)
- Facial expressions
When interpreted together, you can get a clear understanding of what your dog is saying. Here are a few general things to keep in mind when it comes to their eyes.
Staring at You
When dogs stare at each other, it signals aggression. But dogs have learned that humans often reward a soulful gaze. So, if you notice your dog staring at you with soft and adoring eyes, you’re right! They’re showing their love, trust, and trying to win your approval. And, if they blink or squint while doing it, that means something too! They could be trying to figure out what you’re thinking or sending signals to calm you down if you seem upset.
Blinking or Squinting
Dogs often use blinking to communicate when they aren’t looking at you too, and it can mean several different things. For example, a fearful dog could use blinking to communicate that they aren’t a threat and don’t want to get hurt. Squinting can also be a sign of pain or illness. When trying to understand your dog in these situations, observe all of their body language cues and the environment itself for more information.
If you notice your dog raising one or both eyebrows while they make eye contact with you, it’s time to interact! These cues from your dog typically show signs of interest and alertness, so take advantage of their interest and play a game or try teaching them a new trick.
A dog gazing up at you with the lowered head or brows is showing their submission. You can consider this action similar to blinking or squinting while making eye contact, as it’s a sign you have a healthy relationship with your dog.
Avoiding Eye Contact
When a dog avoids eye contact with humans, it signals discomfort and trust issues. A dog displaying this behavior is usually trying to avoid any kind of interaction, good or bad. You may notice this in dogs recently rescued from negative or traumatic situations.
Remember, to truly understand what your dog is saying, you have to look at their eyes in combination with the rest of their body language. When you take the time to “listen” to what they’re “saying,” you can strengthen your bond and develop a deeper level of trust with your best friend.