As humans, we often use eye contact to bond and build relationships with other humans. However, we can do the same with dogs, too, and we can also use canine eye contact to gain insights into our pups and how they’re feeling.
But, how can you get eye contact from your dog? If you’re struggling, there’s a useful game you can try with your pup – it’s simple and easy, and you can play it with your dog no matter their age.
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“Start with a pot, let them know that there are treats, and all you’re going to do is drop a treat on the ground,” begins Glazebrook. “Let them sniff it out. Wait for them to look up at you, and then throw another treat.”
She explains that you’re not trying to call them or say their name to get their attention. The aim is simply to let them sniff the treat out, so that they come to realize they need to look at you and make eye contact before you give them another treat. And she says that whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, whether your dog is a rescue or not, it’s a game that you can play with any pup!
However, it’s worth being aware that, while dogs do use eye contact, it's a little different from how humans use it, just as dog body language can differ from that of humans more generally.
They don’t make prolonged eye contact like humans might in conversation as often – generally, if dogs hold eye contact for longer, it means that they’re trying to establish dominance. So, if two dogs make eye contact with each other and neither breaks off, this could lead to aggression.
Usually, when dogs make eye contact, it’ll be very brief – it may only last a second or two. This usually occurs when they’re deciding whether they want to interact with a new dog. They aren’t used to prolonged eye contact being made in a friendly way. However, dogs can hold eye contact with people they’re more familiar with, and feel safe with. So, if you’re asking questions like ‘Why does my dog stare at me?’ it might just be because they love you.
And as a result, dogs may perceive prolonged eye contact from humans, particularly those they aren’t familiar with, as threatening. So, while it’s a good idea not to hold eye contact for a long time with a dog you’ve only just met, it can still be a great way for you to bond with your own pup.
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Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' Golden Retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.