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Dogs talk with their eyes

Original Publication Date: May 11, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Dogs use many types of body language to communicate their thoughts. A wagging tail is a sign of a happy dog, while a tail held high and stiff indicates the dog is not in a friendly mood. A dog can also speak volumes with their eyes.

Does your dog wink at you?

A dog usually avoids direct eye contact with another dog as it is considered threatening. Dogs may not make eye-to-eye contact with strange people, but most learn that looking into the eyes of a human is an enjoyable gesture that may be rewarded with pets or treats.

Within limits, dogs can change the shape and size of their eyes. They can also change the direction and intensity of their stare.

You need to learn the meaning of what a dog is saying with their eyes as direct eye contact with a dog is not always a welcoming signal. Like different tail carriages, a dog's eyes can send varying messages.

The shape of a dog's eyes depends on their breed. Some have round eyes while others are more almond shaped. Both eye size and shape can change with a dog's disposition. The eyes of a relaxed happy dog will be their normal shape and size.

Eyes that are wide open can indicate the dog is friendly, alert and perhaps curious. If they are sparkling and merry, they're probably in a playful mood.

A dog with eyes that seem smaller than normal is probably stressed or frightened. Squinted eyes may also be a sign of submission.

You need to assess the total posture of the dog as one that is not feeling well or is in pain may also squint their eyes.

Narrowed eyes can tell other stories. They may suggest the dog is fearful, but narrowed eyes with a direct stare indicates aggression. In this case, it would probably be wise to slowly avert your eyes and back off.

Obviously, similar eye appearances can convey very different messages.

Some dogs wink at their owners. Your dog may not wink, but a recent study reported that dogs tend to imitate humans in tasks as complex as learning to open sliding doors.

Dogs can also learn to wink. Experts claim that if you wink at a dog gazing into your eyes, they will mimic your wink. Most dogs apparently learn to wink quite quickly especially if treats are involved.

A person who winks at you sends a flirtatious message that they like you. A winking dog is probably sending a similar memo.

It is wise to understand the language a dog conveys with their eyes. Dogs will let you know if they feels friendly, threatened or aggressive.

Teach your dog to wink if that activity is not already in their bag of tricks. Sharing happy winks will bring great joy to both of you.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at