When you’re in a relationship, there’s nothing like some intense eye contact to strengthen your bond. It’s true when you’re in a relationship with a human—and it’s true when you’re in a relationship with a dog.
The right eye contact can help you to build trust, strengthen your relationship, and bond with your dog. Dog eye contact can also give you insight into your dog’s personality, how he’s feeling, and what he needs.
But not all dog eye contact is created equal. If you want to use eye contact to bond with your dog (and learn more about his personality), you need to understand how to use it effectively. So how, exactly, can you use dog eye contact to connect with your pet?
The psychology of dog eye contact
Eye contact for dogs is different from how it is for humans. While humans might maintain eye contact for minutes at a time (for example, during a deep conversation), that behavior just doesn’t fly in the canine world.
Dogs will typically make brief eye contact when they meet a new dog, especially if they’re deciding if they want to play or interact with that dog. But when we say brief, we mean brief—usually, the eye contact only lasts about a second or two.
Longer, direct eye contact is a way for dogs to establish dominance. When a dog is faced with this kind of dog eye contact dominance, they have two choices. They can hold the eye contact, which shows the other dog they’re not backing down (and could escalate to an altercation)—or they can break eye contact and back off, adopting a more submissive role.
For this reason, dogs also may take prolonged eye contact from strangers as a threat. But while you don’t want to go locking eyes with a dog you don’t know, making eye contact with your own dog is a great way to bond.
Dog eye contact as a way to bond and connect with your pet
Making eye contact with your dog is a great way to build trust, deepen your relationship, and strengthen your bond.
Here’s how it works. Dog eye contact triggers the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for love and bonding, in both humans and canines (one study found that dogs experience a 130% increase in oxytocin levels after locking eyes with their owners—while humans experience a whopping 300% increase). That surge of oxytocin can help deepen the relationship between pet and owner—and offers an opportunity to bond and build trust.
The key to dog eye contact is not to overdo it. You don’t need to stare directly into your dog’s eyes for hours at a time in order to bond; a few minutes petting your dog, speaking kindly to him, and intermittently making eye contact is plenty to trigger the release of the bonding hormone.
What dog eye contact may mean
Ok, so clearly dog eye contact is a great way to bond and strengthen the relationship between you and your pet. But that’s not all it’s good for! Your dog’s eye contact can actually tell you a lot about your pet, his personality, and his needs at any given moment.
Obviously, there’s no way to definitively conclude what your dog’s eye contact means (it’s not like he can tell you!). But if your pet is making dog eye contact, here are a few things it might mean:
- He needs something from you. Like we just mentioned, dogs don’t have the luxury of being able to tell you what they want. So often times, they use eye contact as a way to communicate. If your dog is staring at you, it could be because he needs something (for example, maybe he needs to go outside). Put on your detective hat and see if you can figure out what your dog is asking you for with his eyes.
- He wants to connect. You want to bond with your dog—but your dog wants to bond with you, too! If your pet comes up to you and gives you the good, old-fashioned “puppy dog eyes,” he might just be looking for a little quality time. If you notice your dog making eye contact, give him a few minutes of your undivided attention.
- He’s got a confident and charismatic personality. Just like eye contact is a sign of confidence in humans, your dog’s eye contact could just be a way for him to show off his confident and charismatic personality. Confident dogs sometimes make eye contact with humans as a way to connect; in fact, eye contact is considered a sign of charisma at dog shows! Once those show dogs look into the judge’s eyes and show them how cute, sweet, and loving they are? The competition is pretty much over.
Connect with your pet and make dog eye contact today!
As a pet parent, you want to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to bond with your pet. And, as it turns out, all you need to take advantage of one of the best canine bonding opportunities is a few minutes and your own eyes.
So what are you waiting for? Go grab your dog, make a little eye contact, and show him how much you care!