A recent item on Healthy Pets offers some more information.
Yesterday Belinda, who is local to us in Merlin, Oregon, sent me a link to a further article about dogs’ eyes.
In an email to me, Belinda wrote:
I read your blog on a dog’s eyes and now I know why they have such expressive eyes. I read this and didn’t know if you have any interest in a follow-up to that blog.
Well of course we do! 🙂
The only comment I would make is whether or not Dr. Becker is up-to-date with the latest science.
But here is the article.
What does it mean when your dog gives you the ‘side-eye’?
June 25, 2019
- The term side-eye denotes a greater amount of “white” in a dog’s eyes, which is more pronounced when the dog averts his head slightly, but keeps his eyes fixed on something or someone at the same time
- Some dogs, particularly brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short muzzles), appear to show the whites of their eyes most of the time, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re feeling anything in particular
- The side-eye may be a way for dogs to say “Back off,” and may precede some sort of aggression, especially if they’ve been guarding something like a toy — or food — and suddenly feel threatened
- In studies of other types of canines, dingoes were found to initiate eye contact with a familiar human more often than wolves, but the duration was found to be shorter than the eye contact between humans and dogs
- Dogs’ demeanor might appear to be excitement when they bark, whine, pant or pace, so it’s important to know your dog but also assess the situation that might be causing it
It’s been called the “whale eye,” that sidelong glance your dog gives you that communicates very strongly that something’s up. Also called the “side-eye,” it’s when the color white appears in a half-moon shape on either the right or left side of their eyes.
You may have seen dogs and their cute side-eye looks on social media. They can be quite comical, especially when the accompanying expressions match the captions. Nevertheless, it’s wise to know what your dog’s body language is trying to tell you, because as much as dogs might want to speak in human terms, they’re not able to.
So what does the whale eye mean? Trainers are said to use the term to describe a greater amount of “white” in a dog’s eyes as a means to communicate. It’s more pronounced when the dog averts his head slightly, but keeps his eyes fixed on something or someone at the same time.
Some dogs, particularly brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short muzzles), appear to show the whites of their eyes most of the time, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re feeling anything in particular. Other examples of a dog’s body language, especially if you know what to look for, signify very specific things. Depending on the situation, you might be able to discern what it means fairly quickly.
Side-eye may be a way for dogs to say “Back off,” and usually precedes some sort of aggression, especially if they’ve been guarding something like a toy — or food — and suddenly feel threatened.1 According to Bark Post:
“This is pretty common behavior for dogs to exhibit. Obviously, that doesn’t mean we want them to keep doing it, but it’s important to realize this doesn’t mean you have a defective pup. He’s still the adorable, hilarious, wonderful … little guy or girl you love.
When coming across this sort of behavior, you should definitely give your pup the space they’re asking for. Back up and analyze the situation. Did you get too close to the bone they’ve been hiding for 72 hours?”2
Signs your dog is trying to tell you something
If your dog is giving the side-eye to another person the dog may not be familiar with, experts advise dog owners to be aware of the behavior and try to diffuse it. “Much of what’s required in mitigating this behavior is just removing the cause from the situation.”3
If your dog’s side-eye response is accompanied by a rigid stance or visible tension, it happens more than once and it’s evident it’s not just a sidelong glance, it could be stress-related, and it wouldn’t hurt to contact a positive dog trainer or behaviorist. In many ways, like people, there are a number of ways dogs communicate stress, tension and anxiety.
Sometimes their demeanor might appear to be excitement, such as behavior like barking, whining, panting or pacing. Dogs that feel uncomfortable or nervous might communicate it by hiding, relieving themselves in the house, cowering or shaking. At times, however, the signs may be much more subtle, such as if you notice them blinking, yawning, licking, swallowing or shedding more than usual.
If your pup shows the side-eye or other signs of stress, petting him gently with long, smooth strokes from their chest, shoulder and base of their tail will help relax him.4,5 It helps relieve tension and could even serve as a sort of “maintenance” to help keep them calm in out-of-the-ordinary situations.
How eye contact in other canine species denotes communication
While wolves (Canis lupus) and coyotes (Canis latrans) may not seem to have much in common with domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), experts place them in the same species. That great Danes and Chihuahuas are related to each other, not to mention these feral varieties, seems hard to believe, but domestic dogs came from wolves, and scientists say some wolf varieties may be coyote hybrids.
Dingoes, placed for years in the same canine designation as dogs, wolves and coyotes, have been deemed their own distinct species. They’re now formally called Canis dingo,6 even though they bear a remarkable resemblance to other canines. Over the last few centuries, their scientific names, such as Canis lupus dingo and Canis familiaris dingo, wrongly related them to the others.
Interestingly, a study7 on the origins of dog and human eye contact included all of the above species. It determined that dingoes establish eye contact less often than dogs do, but more often than wolves. In addition, dingoes were found to initiate eye contact with a familiar human more often than wolves, but the duration was found to be shorter than the eye contact between humans and dogs.
While words are the preferred mode of communication between humans, your dog may pay more attention to your posture, gestures and eye contact, possibly because they often use body language to communicate more than any other tool. They’re also in tune with your tone, and pick up from you more of your mindset than you might imagine.
Dogs’ body language changes around humans
Not only do dogs communicate with their humans with body language, they also do so with other dogs, especially when there’s more than one dog or several in a household. But the journal Nature cited a study8 showing that a dog literally “produces” more facial expressions when they’re looking straight at their significant humans. In fact, it:
“Support(s) for the idea that dogs do indeed produce facial expressions to communicate with people — although perhaps just to engage us, rather than to manipulate us. The dogs in the study produced more than twice as many facial expressions (‘puppy dog eyes’ was one of the most common) when a researcher was facing them than when she was turned away …
(It) adds to a growing body of work that shows how sensitive dogs are to human attention. It also provides the first evidence in a non-primate species that facial expressions can be used actively to communicate.”9
Psychology Today affirms that eyes are the “window to the soul.”10 If you’re a dog lover, you know you can share thoughts and feelings just by looking into your beloved pet’s eyes. It’s one of the signs that the bond between you is strong, and communicates mutual respect, as well. One more thing those eyes reveal is that the love your dog has for you is unconditional. Just watch out for those side-eyes.
The numbered references do not appear to relate to any further details as a footnote to the article. Maybe one has to be a subscriber to gain access to them?
Anyway, the article was of interest and follows on very nicely to the article published on June 22nd: Those Eyes.