Eye contact is a touchy situation in dogs. It is a huge communication source for dogs; that along with the rest of their body. Dogs use it all but much is said with eyes alone. As a photographer I love to catch "a look" during a shoot. Having watched dogs intently now for 35 years (yikes!) there is much to be said for communicating through body language. Often an emotion or mood can be seen in the eyes well before any other communications are made. But not all dogs speak loudly with their eyes; my Luke speaks volumes with his eyes. In fact he probably has the most expressive eyes of any dog I have met.
Reading eyes takes some practice; but many canine guardians know their dogs looks and the meaning behind them very well. Positioning of the eye and the size of the pupil can mean so many different things for different dogs.
Reaction: action in response to some influence, event, etc.
A dogs actions are directly related to their experience or lack of experience to a stimulus. So what one dog may consider to be frightening another may view as nothing. This will largely effect eye movement, positioning, size of eyeball and pupil. One common eye message in dogs which is not a commonly understood one is the squint. When I meet a new dog I am very careful to watch body language and eye communications. As a dog approaches me in a lowered stance; this tells me the dog is submissive but this along with squinted eyes says VERY submissive and a lack of confidence. Most owners have no idea that their dog squints as it is typically saved for strangers. Something to watch for. Squinting can also signal pain in dogs.
Attitude eyes or "whale eye" as they are commonly known, can mean trouble. This is when a dog does not turn their head but only uses their eyes giving you a display of the whites of their eye. Many dogs will display this eye while guarding or as a clear threat that should be adhered to. Luke has a lot of attitude and tends to give me this eye when he is in a mood. Of course it can simply mean that a dog is too feeling a head motion and just moves their eyes. My little Jessie uses her eyes a lot; and most dogs listen when she speaks with her eyes. I call it her laser beam look and it conveys a clear message. Much of our dog's communications are lost on us as we go about our verbal days. Dogs watch; so to fully communicate with them we must watch. I can constantly be heard saying "did you see that?" As I watch both my own dogs and others. A simply look can be a WOW moment in a dog's world.
A direct stare is a threat in dog language; so you should never stare at a dog. This is something that I wish was common knowledge in children as it is typically children who stare at dogs. Many of our dogs learn that a stare or gaze from an owner or family member is different than a typical stare. I can stare at Luke and he gives me googly eyes. If I stare at Tilley she is good for a few seconds and then grows uncomfortable. If a stranger stares at Luke; he regards it as a challenge immediately and reacts. If you have ever seen a dog fight in the beginning stages; there is much said before any physical contact is made.
As all of you regular readers know; I am a fiend for watching dogs behavior and that too encompasses eye communications. Dogs are constantly watching us; if you aren't watching back you are missing much of the canine day to day.