Why Won’t Your Dog Look At You?

We’ve already addressed why some people’s dogs stare at them, so let’s explore the opposite situation…

Why is it that your dog won’t look at you?

For most people and cultures, eye contact is considered a positive thing and is viewed as a way to make a connection with a person. But for dogs, eye contact sends a different message which may not be interpreted as positive.

Some dogs will respond to direct eye contact by immediately looking away from you. This may be because the dog perceives that someone looking him in the eyes is a threat. In a dog’s world, direct and prolonged eye contact between two dogs is rare. 

Instead what usually happens is this…

A dog will stare at another and the other dog will quickly look away as a sign of submission or appeasement. This usually works to lower the tension in this situation and avoids a fight.

So even though eye contact is really not natural to dogs, they often learn that when they do it, good things come of it, such as attention or treats. It’s really important to teach your dog that eye contact is safe, as her reaction could escalate to agression if she feels threatned enough.

Like many other behaviors, it’s best to teach this to your dog when she is young. But, if necessary, you can do this with adult dogs as well. But as a caution, if your adult dog responds with agression to direct eye contact, get a professional trainer involved right away.

The best way to teach eye contact is to let the behavior happen on its own, then reward your dog. Begin by leashing your dog and while being very still, wait for your dog to look up toward your eyes. Reward eye contact with a verbal cue, such as “good” and also treat her immediately.

If your dog won’t look up at you, then you can elicit eye contact by holding a treat a few inces away from your face. As soon as your dog looks away from the treat and toward your face cue the behavior with “good” and immediately treat her.

As soon as your dog begins to make eye contact easily, then add a verbal cue such as “look” which you will say just as she shifts her eyes to yours. Practice this while you are in several positions such as kneeling, sitting and so forth. 

You may also want to practice with other people such as family members and friends. Only practice if your dog stays relaxed and calm and reacts without fear. Eye contact with humans should result in only good things for your dog!

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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