Dog Avoids Eye Contact [From Shy to Confident]

Zack Keithy, our author, is a certified veterinarian technician (UC Blue Ash) for over 6 years (contact him here). The articles written here are based on his expertise and experience, combined with a review by our expert vet reviewers including Dr M. Tarantino. Learn more about us here.

For us, making eye contact is a powerful means of establishing trust and a close bond. However, it could mean something different to our canine companions.

If you ever notice your dog avoids eye contact, it’s not always because of that shoe they chewed up last week.

Dogs avoiding eye contact can be due to numerous reasons, including fear and anxiety, insecurity, and lack of socialization, among many other potential causes.

Let’s find out why our pets are not as open to looking us in the eye and what we can do about it.

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15 Reasons Why Dogs Avoid Eye Contact

Reasons Why Dogs Avoid Eye Contact

When another person cannot look us in the eye, it usually means they are afraid or embarrassed.

But what about our pets? Does avoiding eye contact mean the same to them as it does to us? 

Dogs have their unique reasons for avoiding eye contact, which can range from feeling threatened to a lack of trust or experiencing anxiety. 

Understanding these reasons can help us decipher our dogs’ emotions and enhance our bond with them. 

1. Feeling threatened

Dogs may avoid eye contact when they feel threatened by a person or another animal.

They’re letting you know that they don’t want to fight because they know they are weaker.

2. Displaying submission

Lowering their gaze is a submissive behavior in dogs.

Our furry pals do this to “show respect” and avoid any potential conflict with more dominant individuals.

3. Avoiding conflict

Most dogs (and in fact, many animals too) view eye contact as a challenge.

So, when a dog avoids making eye contact, they’re saying that they’re not interested in being a top dog.

It’s an acknowledgment that the other ranks higher in their perceived hierarchy.

4. Fear or anxiety

Dogs who are fearful or anxious may avoid eye contact as a coping mechanism.

Direct eye contact can be intimidating and increase their stress levels.

5. Lack of trust

Dogs may shy away from making eye contact if they don’t fully trust someone or feel at ease in their company.

I see this all the time with rescue dogs.

It’s their means of keeping a certain distance and safeguarding themselves.

They just don’t want to be hurt.

And if they don’t trust the other to not hurt them, they would avoid eye contact to prevent provoking the other party. 

Doggy says, consider reading this too: Why does my dog stare at me all the time?

6. Pain or illness

When dogs are in pain or discomfort, they may avoid eye contact as they prioritize managing their well-being.

They get to conserve energy and cope with their physical condition by not engaging. 

By avoiding looking into another’s eyes, they may also communicate that they feel vulnerable and prefer not to be in a situation where they might need to defend themselves.

7. Sensory overload

In situations where everything seems too loud or too bright, your pet may feel overwhelmed and start avoiding eye contact.

This is their way of protecting themselves and managing all the things they are sensing around them. 

By choosing to look away, they can control and regulate their sensory experiences.

8. Past abuse or trauma

Dogs that have been mistreated in the past may associate eye contact with those negative experiences. 

As a way to protect themselves, they choose to avoid looking others in the eye to prevent causing any more unpleasant experiences.

9. Behavioral issues

Dogs with specific behavior problems, such as being fearful or possessive, may avoid eye contact as a way to express their unease or protect what they consider theirs.

10. Negative association with eye contact

Some dogs may have learned to associate eye contact with negative things due to previous experiences or training methods.

They may have learned to instinctively avoid eye contact to stay away from perceived threats.

11. Breed-specific behavior

Some dogs have unique behaviors based on their breed, and this can influence their comfort level with eye contact. 

Certain breeds may naturally balk at making eye contact more than others such as the Shiba Inu, Basenji, or Afghan Hound.

12. Insecurity

Dogs that lack confidence may avoid looking others in the eye for self-protection. 

Eye contact could signal others that they are open to being interacted with.

If your pet is not feeling too sociable, they’d start looking elsewhere so they can avoid uncomfortable social interactions.

13. Guilty of doing something wrong

Dogs may look away or avoid eye contact when they know they have done something they shouldn’t have or when they anticipate being scolded. 

For example, if your pet accidentally knocked over a vase or had an accident in the house, they may avert their gaze as a sign of remorse or guilt. 

15. Feeling intimidated

Dogs may avoid looking directly at someone when they feel overwhelmed or intimidated by their presence or assertive body language. 

This avoidance is like a barrier that helps them create a sense of safety and avoid potential conflicts.

15. Lack of socialization

Dogs that haven’t had enough opportunities to interact with different people or animals may exhibit avoidance of eye contact because they haven’t learned how to engage in it. 

They may feel unsure or uncomfortable in social situations and avoid looking others in the eye as a coping mechanism.

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Doggy says, you might be keen to read this too: Do dogs go through terrible twos?

How to Teach Your Dog to Make Eye Contact?

If you’re eager to strengthen the bond with your furry pal and enhance your communication, teaching your dog to make eye contact can be a valuable skill. 

Eye contact can foster a deeper connection and understanding between you and your pet. 

Here are some tricks you can try to encourage this behavior:

Hold a treat

They say food is the way to a man’s heart, and it might just be true for our four-legged friends too! 

One effective trick to teach your dog to make eye contact is by holding a tasty treat near your eyes and saying their name.

Reward them with the treat when they look into your eyes. 

By repeating this exercise regularly, you reinforce the behavior and make eye contact a positive and rewarding experience for your dog.

Clicker training

Try using a clicker as a signal for your dog to look into your eyes.

Start by clicking the clicker when your dog naturally looks at you, and then shower them with enthusiastic praises or playful pets. 

With time and practice, they’ll catch on that eye contact means lots of love and rewards.

Teach a command

Introduce a command like “Look” or “Watch me” to associate it with making eye contact.

Use the command when you want your dog to focus on you and make eye contact. 

Reward them when they respond correctly.

Through positive reinforcement, you’ll make the habit stick.

Train in a quiet, distraction-free space

Don’t underestimate the benefit of being in a distraction-free location.

Some pets easily get distracted by their surroundings, so finding a quiet and calm space for training is key. 

Choose a place where you can minimize noise and other distractions. It might be ideal to train in your backyard or a small part of your living room. 

Having fewer distractions will allow your furry pal to focus solely on you and the training exercises. 

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in training your pet.

When your dog makes eye contact, always reward them with treats, praise, or gentle petting. 

This positive feedback motivates them to continue making eye contact and reinforces the behavior you desire. 

Don’t force or intimidate

It’s important to create a positive and trusting environment.

Avoid forcing your dog to make eye contact or using intimidating tactics. 

That feeling of being intimidated could be why your pet refuses to look you in the eye in the first place.

Instead, be patient and provide gentle encouragement to help them feel comfortable and willing to make eye contact with you.

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Should You Worry if Your Dog Avoids Eye Contact?

While eye contact is often viewed as a sign of trust and connection in humans, it holds a different meaning in the canine world.

For dogs, direct eye contact can be interpreted as a challenge or a display of dominance. 

Doing so could be a way for dogs to interact with others peacefully, and to show respect and submission to more dominant individuals.

Remember, every dog is unique, and their comfort level with eye contact may vary.

Some dogs may enjoy direct eye contact, while others may prefer more subtle forms of communication.

Can You Teach Your Dog to Make Eye Contact?

Can You Teach Your Dog to Make Eye Contact

Certainly! Training your furry pal to look you in the eye is possible and can be a valuable skill to develop. 

Be patient and consistent during the training process.

For me, starting with short sessions and then gradually increasing the minutes of your eye contact training is the way to go. 

Keep in mind that not all dogs may naturally make prolonged eye contact, as it can vary based on individual temperament and breed tendencies. 

It’s essential to respect your dog’s comfort level and avoid forcing eye contact if they seem uncomfortable or stressed.

Other Common Dog Communication Methods

Other common dog communication methods go beyond eye contact and involve various body language signals.

Dogs use a combination of visual and physical cues to communicate their feelings and intentions. Here are some examples:

Lowered head

Much like when your pet averts their gaze, lowering their head often also indicates submission or respect. Your pet could be showing deference to another individual when they lower their head. 

Raised eyebrows

Dogs have expressive faces, and raising their eyebrows can indicate curiosity or attentiveness. It’s similar to how humans raise their eyebrows to show interest or surprise.

Bum in the air

You may have seen dogs assume a playful posture with their front end down and their hindquarters up in the air. This play bow is an invitation for you to play with them.  

It signals that the dog is in a friendly and playful mood.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What if my dog suddenly won’t look at me?

If your pet dog is usually comfortable with eye contact but suddenly avoids it, it may indicate feelings of being threatened, anxious, or guilty. Pay attention to other signs of discomfort and consider consulting a vet if needed.

Is it bad to stare a dog in the eyes?

It depends. Staring directly into a dog’s eyes can be viewed as you challenging them. It’s best to avoid prolonged eye contact with unfamiliar dogs. But gentle eye contact with your well-behaved dog can be a positive bonding experience.

Is guilt making your dog avoid eye contact?

While dogs don’t feel guilt in the same way as humans, if your pet avoids eye contact after misbehaving, it may be because it knows it did something wrong and anticipates your disapproval. 

Why does my dog look away from me when I look at him?

Dogs may look away when you make direct eye contact due to various reasons, including submission, avoiding conflict, or feeling intimidated. Besides it being their unique way of communication, looking away could be their means of maintaining a sense of safety.

Is my dog ignoring me if it doesn’t look at me?

Not necessarily. If your pet usually maintains eye contact with you but suddenly avoids it after a specific incident, they might be reacting to something you did. However, if they consistently avoid eye contact, it could just be their natural behavior.

In Conclusion: Dog Avoids Eye Contact

I just wanna say that the key takeaway here should be that dogs communicate in their own unique way, and avoiding eye contact is just one facet of their behavior.

When we learn to understand them better, we will end up with a stronger bond.

Hey! If you found this post useful, check out these other ones too:

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Zack Keithy
Zack Keithy

Hey, I'm Zack, the Chief Editor here. I was formerly a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) for a good 6 years before moving on to greener pastures. Right now, I am still heavily involved in dog parenting duties, and it is my desire to share all our knowledge with fellow dog owners out there! Connect with me on LinkedIn, or read more about Canine Care Central!

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