Our dogs are our family, and sometimes they feel so much like family we start to see them as human. As natural as it is to love your dog as much as you love your human family, it’s important to remember that dogs think, move, and behave differently than you and I. Knowing how to read your dog’s body language is an important skill all dog owners need to have, since being able to see how your dog is feeling can help to build deeper trust between you and your dog and keep you both safe. (Be sure to scroll down to see the hilarious dog side eye memes)
One of the common dog body language behaviors that humans often misunderstand is side-eye.
What Is “Whale Eye”?
You know, when your dog looks at you out of the side of their eye? Usually, their head is turned away from you, but their eye is locked on you or whatever you are doing. It’s like they’re trying not to look, but they’re obviously looking. Dog side eye sort of makes them look suspicious, or like they’re hiding a juicy secret. The whites of their eyes become visible, sometimes around the whole eye, or on one side in a half-moon shape.
While human instinct is to think this behavior is cute or quirky, dog side eye (known as “whale eye” by dog trainers and behavioral experts) is a sign of discomfort, fear, or anxiety.
Why Do Dogs Show Side-Eye?
Dogs primarily use body language to communicate with each other, and in a situation where one might feel threatened or nervous, they use a variety of behaviors to warn each other that they are likely to become defensive if they aren’t left alone. Whale eye is effectively a warning sign to let other dogs, people, cats, and mailmen that the dog could bite if they aren’t given some space.
Being able to detect this kind of warning sign is huge for dog owners, especially those with children. While subtle, behaviors like whale eye are the dog’s way of communicating discomfort and responding quickly to the message goes a long way in building trust between you and your canine.
|Relaxed & Happy||Iris should be easily visible|
|Anxiety & Aroused||Pupils will be dilated|
|Discomfort & Nervousness||“Whale Eyes”; the whites of their eyes become visible|
Body Language that Goes with Whale Eye
Some dogs have anatomy that allows the white of the eye to be seen all the time. Brachycephalic dogs like Boxers, (English and French) Bulldogs and Pugs are most prone to this, making it slightly more difficult to tell when one is giving you the side eye.
If you aren’t sure whether your dog is trying to tell you they are uncomfortable with their eyes, try looking for some of these other body language cues:
Appropriate Reactions to Whale Eye
The best way to build a close relationship with your dog is to show them they can trust you. Dogs pushed beyond their limit, or dogs whose body language is ignored can become reactive, and may be more likely to bite, charge, or lunge out of anxiety. If you can respond quickly, appropriately, and consistently to your dog’s body language, you will avoid them going beyond the simple warning signs of fear.
When you see a dog’s side eye, the best thing to do is to stop interacting with them or to move away. If you are petting them you should stop. If you are standing too close while they are eating, you should take a few steps back and wait for them to relax. If you are on a walk and they show side eye to a large group of people, simply walk away.
If you find that your dog is showing you signs of discomfort, anxiety, or aggression more often than is usual, you should consult with a trainer who may be able to help you pinpoint appropriate handling techniques for you and your pooch.
Dog Side-Eye Memes
Even though side eye from a dog isn’t necessarily a good thing, we have to admit that those memes are pretty darn funny! Here are some of our favorites:
Forget to open the door for your dog? Expect some scorn!
Ugh, c’mon mom, you know I’m an only dog!
We feel you, buddy. Everyone hates the DMV.
Even Golden Retrievers get a little nervous around new babies!
Do you ever feel like your dog is judging you?
What are you lookin’ at?