If a dog stares at you, do you square up to him and stare back?
Staring can be seen as a threat – challenging. For this reason many unsure dogs can find direct eye contact uncomfortable, and people with any knowledge of a dog’s body language will avoid direct eye contact or even, to make him feel more at ease with us, we quite deliberately look away when a dog is staring at us.
Doesn’t this seem obvious? Apparently not. We still have people including ‘old-school ‘ trainers telling us that we must dominate the dog or you give him control over us so the dog must blink or look away first.
Isn’t it much the same with us? If two lads confront one another and each tries to stare the other down, if one doesn’t submit then it probably will end in a punch up. Similarly, with a dog we may be provoking aggression – which can only end badly for the dog also. Looking into someone’s eyes and then looking away is polite but staring isn’t – unless someone is speaking and wants to hold our attention.
In her book ‘Inside of a Dog’, Dr. Alexandra Horowitz believes that the dog´s unique ability to look into our eyes and hold our gaze was one of the first steps in the domestication that makes our bond with dogs so unique. This is about communication, not dominance. A fixed stare can also be part of the prey sequence.
Some breeds are actually bred to hold our gaze, particularly when awaiting instructions. My working Cocker, Pickle, looks intently at me when he wants me to do something – like throw his ball! That’s Pickle’s picture at the top.
Where eye contact with a dog is concerned, forget about dominance – take a look at this.
Here is the story of a dog I visited where avoiding direct eye contact was very important indeed.
Theo Stewart, INTODogs, ISCP, IMDT, VSPDT
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