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Dog Side Eye: Decoding Your Pet’s Expressive Glances

Dogs have an incredible ability to communicate with us, often using body language to convey their feelings and thoughts. This process has been developed over centuries of domestication.

One such intriguing expression is the infamous “side-eye.” You’ve probably caught your furry friend casting a sidelong glance your way, leaving you wondering what’s going on in their little head.

If you’ve ever wondered what the canine side-eye means, we’ll explore that and more in this article.

A dog laying on a rug in a kitchen giving a side-eye glance.

Readiness to interact

Dogs are constantly scanning their environment for information. According to a study published in the NIH, “eye contact particularly seems to provide information on human readiness to communicate; when there is such an ostensive cue, dogs tend to follow human communicative gestures more often.”

Dogs are continuously gazing at us in order to detect any cues of communication or invitations for interaction.

An example of this is your dog side eyeing you as you walk across the room towards their leash. As soon as you grab your dog’s leash they usually pop up from their comfortable position with excitement anticipating going outside.

This constant alertness is even present at times when sleeping which is why dogs often appear to sleep with their eyes open.

Curiosity and interest

When your dog gives you a sidelong glance, it could be a sign of curiosity. They’re observing their surroundings, movement or something new in their environment.

This could be a way for them to process and understand unfamiliar stimuli without fully engaging.

Wariness and caution 

In some cases, a dog’s side-eye might stem from a sense of wariness or caution. This could be triggered by a past negative experience or a feeling of vulnerability. Your dog may be assessing a situation, person or another animal before deciding how to react. It’s their way of gauging whether something is safe or potentially threatening.

I have seen dogs walking by the kennel of other dogs, side eyeing them to avoid direct confrontation through their body language. Understanding and responding to cues this expression offers can help you create a safe and supportive environment for your furry companion.

A black and white photo of a bulldog giving a side eye stare.
Photo credit: Pexels.

Playfulness and engagement 

Not all side-eyes are serious! Dogs also use this expression to engage in play. A quick glance from the corner of their eye might signal an invitation to play or interact. It can be their way of saying, “Let’s have some fun!”

If you have ever run around and suddenly gotten on the floor with your dog you have probably seen the play bow before they spring into action. Oftentimes you will see a playful side eye during the bow. I have seen it many times in dogs that are flat-faced (brachycephalic) such as bulldogs.

Medical condition

One thing to rule out through a visual inspection is a medical ailment such as a prolapsed nictitating membrane gland or cherry eye condition as it’s commonly referred to.

An article published by the Royal Veterinary College states this condition is a result of the gland on the inner side of the third eyelid prolapsing, becoming red and swollen and covering part of the eye. This condition can force a dog to look out through the back corner of their eye because the front is partially blocked. Consult a veterinarian if you see this condition.

So why the side eye?

The canine side-eye is a captivating glimpse into your dog’s thoughts and feelings. It’s a powerful reminder of the deep connection we share with our furry companions. As you become more attuned to your dog’s side-eye expressions or why they’re covering their nose with their paw, you’ll strengthen your bond and improve your communication.

By taking the time to decode their side-eye expressions, you can understand and empathize with them. So the next time your dog gives you that sidelong glance, remember, they’re speaking to you in their own special way.