Eye contact is a significant form of communication between dogs and humans, and it serves various purposes in the canine-human relationship. Here are some reasons why eye contact is important for dogs and why you as a dog owner should always be aware of your eye contact with both your own and other dogs.
Bonding and Trust: Dogs are social animals, and establishing eye contact can strengthen the bond between a dog and its guardian. It builds trust and reinforces the emotional connection between the two.
Communication of Intentions: Dogs use eye contact to communicate their intentions and feelings. A soft, gentle gaze can convey affection and calmness, while a direct stare may signal assertiveness or a challenge. Understanding these cues helps humans respond appropriately to their dogs.
Understanding Human Cues: Dogs are adept at reading human body language as well as dog body language and eye contact is a crucial part of that. When a dog makes eye contact with a person, it is often seeking information or cues about what the person is thinking or doing. Dogs can learn a lot about their human companions through eye contact.
Training and Commands: Eye contact is fundamental in dog training. Teaching a dog to make and maintain eye contact on command can be a valuable tool for obedience training. Without engagement from a dog to which eye contact is key, dog training simply will not be achieved to any appropriate level. It helps establish focus and reinforces the dog's responsiveness to cues and commands.
Conflict Resolution: In the dog world, prolonged, direct eye contact can be perceived as a threat or a challenge. On the other hand, avoiding eye contact may signal submission or deference. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for preventing conflicts between dogs and for humans to navigate their interactions with dogs appropriately.
Emotional Regulation: For some dogs, making eye contact with their owners can have a calming effect. It may help reduce anxiety or stress, especially in situations that may be unfamiliar or unsettling or to help a dog relax.
It's important to note that while eye contact is generally positive, individual dogs may have different preferences and comfort levels. Some dogs may feel threatened by direct eye contact, especially if it is intense or prolonged. Understanding the context and being attuned to the dog's body language is crucial for interpreting the meaning of eye contact in different situations. As with any aspect of dog-human interaction, it's essential to respect the individual preferences and boundaries of each dog.