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Why Do Dogs Avoid Eye Contact?

Many dogs avoid eye contact because they have failed to learn the perks associated with making eye contact with humans. However, the good news is that dogs can learn to make contact, and the best part is that, once dogs learn that eye contact is a positive thing, this opens the lines of communication between them and their owners. This means that your dog will look up to you more and more to better understand what you are trying to communicate.

Why do dogs avoid eye contact? If your dog avoids eye contact, he must have a good reason why. Not all dogs make eye contact and the way they act when you make eye contact may reveal some interesting findings about the dog's personality. The way a dog behaves is often the result of how he was raised in his environment and his past experiences can shape future behaviors. Read on to learn why some dogs avoid eye contact.

This dog is looking away and even yawning. Perhaps the camera pointing at him is making him umcomfortable.

This dog is looking away and even yawning. Perhaps the camera pointing at him is making him umcomfortable.

Understand Eye Communication

In the human world, eye contact is often a sign of courtesy and confidence, we look people directly into the eyes to understand their emotions and we use our eyes to communicate, but in the dog world, direct eye contact can be perceived as a threat.

 If you watch dogs interact, you may notice how a dog averts his gaze when another stares directly. This is peaceful way to "appease" and solve a potential conflict. When two dogs stare each other intently though this is often a sign of an impending fight.

A Quest For Trust

Some dog's aren't comfortable making eye contact with people. These dogs may be shy, inhibited from past negative experiences or simply haven't learned that, with humans, it's perfectly fine to make eye contact.

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 It may take time for a dog to trust and learn that eye contact is OK. Some dogs do not like to make eye contact because they want to demonstrate that they are non-confrontational and want to avoid conflict as much as possible.

Did you know? A study has shown that, when dogs and their owners make eye contact, this mutual gazing causes owners to release a special hormone known as oxytocin. 

Eye contact opens the lines of communication between dogs and owners

Eye contact opens the lines of communication between dogs and owners

Now That You Know...

As seen, dogs have their reasons for not wanting to make eye contact. Forcing a dog to make eye contact is not something that will ever work, because the dog needs to first learn that it is safe for them to do so. Here are some tips to help a new dog learn that making eye contact is fine. 

  • When you meet a new dog, it's best if you avoid giving direct eye contact to reassure the dog that you're not threatening. Slightly looking away instead of staring directly in the eyes is a good choice. Give the dog some time to learn that you are non-threatening.
  • If you have a new dog who is intimidated by eye contact and looks away, you can create positive associations so your dog can learn that eye contact is a good thing. 
  • To teach a dog to love eye contact, when you are in a quiet place, make a smacking noise with your mouth and bring a treat at eye level. If your dog makes eye contact, even for a brief second, praise and immediately reward by giving the treat. 
  • Repeat the above exercise several times, holding the treat longer and longer before rewarding, so your dog learns to maintain longer eye contact.
  •  If at any time your dog appears nervous or aggressive during this exercise, consult with a professional. 
  • For more information here's a more complete guide: How to train your dog to make eye contact and love it!

Did you know? According to a study conducted by Evan MacLean and Brian Hare, dogs have proven to be much more adept at reading human social cues than chimpanzees or great apes, and even as puppies, dogs showed the uncanny ability to spontaneously respond to human gestures such the direction of our gaze and pointing to help them find hidden food or toy rewards.

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