Eye Contact in Dogs


 Eye Contact In Dogs

How Important Is it?

Have you noticed that some dogs are happy to make eye contact with their owner, whilst others are extremely wary of it?

I noticed that my rescue dog, who is extremely anxious is always reluctant to look at me, even when I spoke to him extremely softly.

Here, we find out

How a human and his dog communicate through eye contact.

We look at the significance of direct eye contact and how it can help establish a bond between man and dog.

Recognising ‘whale eye’ or the ‘hard stare’.

Finally, we examine the science behind the saying ‘puppy dog eyes’.


Eye Contact In Dogs

How To Recognise Different Types Of Eye Contact in Dogs

Dogs have to rely on body language to communicate with other dogs and humans, so eye movement is really important.

A dog will perceive a direct look from a stranger as a threat but will react calmer to someone who glances away or looks at him from a distance.

Training Positive Eye Contact

I have always used eye contact with dogs to get their attention when training them. However, with my rescue dog, he was well past the puppy stage when we adopted him and getting his full attention was incredibly hard. Sometimes it appeared that he was ignoring me on purpose but in actual fact, he was feeling a little anxious. A puppy who is not taught to make positive eye contact will remain fearful of a direct stare and this will lead to difficulty in training.

Teach your puppy to make eye contact with you by holding a treat close to your face. Only give the treat to the dog when direct eye contact is achieved.

It is important because the basis of all training techniques is to have your dog’s attention at all times. This means that the dog is ‘tuned in’ to his owner and will be listening and watching for verbal and non-verbal commands.

When a child or stranger approaches your dog with eyes fixed directly, a trained dog will look to his owner for reassurance. A simple command will allow the dog to relax in the company of other dogs, children and strangers.


Eye Contact In Dogs

Through The Eyes Of A Dog – The Significance of Eye Contact

Good Eye Contact With Dogs Signifies A Strong Bond

Training your dog to look at you on command signifies that he trusts you and that you have a strong bond. The dog will recognise you as his pack leader and will be eager to obey commands.

How To Use Eye Contact When Greeting An Unfamiliar Dog

When greeting an unfamiliar puppy or mature dog it is important not to stare directly at the dog. Look sideways at the dog, glancing away frequently to assure him that you are not a threat. Use a soft voice and stand at an angle to the dog to reassure him. A dog who stares at you is fearful and may act aggressively so approach with caution.

Whale Eye or The ‘Hard’ Stare

eye contact in dogs

This is demonstrated when the dog’s eyes are in a fixed stare and the whites of the eyes are displayed in a half-moon shape. At the same time, the dog’s fur may be raised along his spine and he will yawn, lick his lips and possibly growl.



What does this rigid stare mean?

The dog is anxious, scared or feels threatened. He is giving a strong signal to you that he feels uncomfortable with something. Maybe he has heard a strange sound in the house or an unfamiliar dog is approaching him.

It is important to reassure your dog rather than chastise him. He is simply communicating to you that he feels you may be in danger.

Try to calm the dog by reassuring in a soft voice. When the dog relaxes his body visibly loosens and his eyes become softer.

If this behaviour continues it can lead to aggression from the dog in the form of a snap, bite or a fight with another dog.

Always treat a dog who is displaying this rigid stare with extreme caution.

If you have ever wondered how to prevent or stop a dog fight safely, you will find all the information you need here.

Eye Contact The Soft Stare

The ‘Soft’ Stare

This takes place when your dog looks lovingly at his owner in a relaxed, friendly way. The tail will be in a loose position and the dog may lean into their owner’s body. This signifies that the dog is well socialised, confident and trusts his owner.


Oxytocin the ‘love’ hormone.

Oxytocin (often called the ‘love’ hormone) is released from both dog and owner when the soft stare takes place. This hormone is also released when you cuddle your dog. Therefore, in the case of my nervous rescue dog, he and I can still get a hit of the love hormone when we snuggle on the sofa!

Eye Contact In Dogs

Puppy Dog Eyes

This is a phrase we have all heard and all dog owners will find relatable.

Actually, there is more behind that deep, soulful look!

Since domestication dogs have learned how to raise their inner eyebrow muscle, making their eyes seem much bigger. This gives a very cute expression and makes it easier to read the emotions of the dog.

Studies say that this has evolved over time and is unintentional behaviour. It also found that the prominent inner eyebrow muscle was present in domesticated dogs, but not in wolves. The study went on to experiment with homeless dogs in rescue centres. They found that dogs who raised their inner brow more frequently were adopted faster.

There is a link to the study. here

So it would seem that over centuries dogs have finely tuned their interpretation of human emotions and evolved physically to communicate with us through non-verbal body language.

Can Dogs Read Our Emotions From Facial Expressions?

Researchers from the University of Lincoln have experimented on dogs to see if they can read our emotions through images and sounds. They found that dogs can tell the difference between positive and negative human expressions.

Here is the link to the article.

They say that the eyes are windows to the soul and in the relationship between man and dog, this is certainly true.

Additional Reading

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