Eye contact - a meeting of the eyes of two persons, regarded as a meaningful nonverbal form of communication.
There are all different degrees of eye contact in dogs. Eye contact is a powerful means of communication and it is something that I look for in puppies. I love eye contact; looking down and seeing my dog looking back at me. Eye contact is a funny thing; it is much more than a connecting of the eyes. A lot can be said with a simple contact; that is depending on who the target contact is.
Elsa is a big eye contact dog, as is Luke. The difference in the two now is simply age and experience. Yesterday while Elsa and I were at the park; we passed by a dog who was giving Elsa a lot of eye contact. She didn't like it; and it is quite understandable. As we walked down the path and nearer to the dog; it just stood frozen staring. The owner had it out on an extension and was not reeling it in at all. I assessed the dog as best I could. It looked older, maybe a Siberian/Cattle dog mix. I knew immediately that Elsa was not going to like this as we got closer. I kept my pace exact, my demeanor was calm and confident. As we passed the dog, it continued to stare as I gave us some space by unnoticeably moving away ever so slightly.
Just passed the dog and Elsa let out a huge snort. She's a snorter and her snorts mean something. They are typically when she is stressed or anxious; when she feels the need to say something. Much like us saying "holy sh*%, what the heck or really?" So when she snorts I listen; and I always look around to see what she is snorting at. As we passed the man and his dog he said "she just likes to smell," but her smelling was an unnerving behavior for Elsa; who happens to be a reader. It is what she does and she doesn't miss a thing.
We could walk right past a dog with only inches apart and if the dog was minding it's own business, all would be fine. As soon as that dog connects eyes, everything changes. That is, it changes for Elsa; not all dogs. Many dogs are oblivious to eye contact or they simply don't care. Elsa doesn't dislike eye contact; she simply has a heighten awareness when it comes to it. It is not just dog eye contact that she is aware of; she watches humans and their eye contact as well. If someone stares at her she gets quite antsy. She tries so hard to figure out what they are saying and if they are just staring and really saying nothing, it's just plain weird to her.
Most dogs are very aware of eye contact; but like I said some are not. When dealing with dogs, it is a good idea to be aware of your own eye contact. Each and every time I walk into a new training clients house I will give no eye contact. Not until I see that the dog is completely comfortable with me and me moving around in their house do I give eye contact. Even then I am careful and do it a bit at a time.
We recently had a party at our house. They were both loving everyone until; one guy who had a hat on startled Elsa. He then tried very hard to be her friend by holding his hand out and staring at her. Humans just don't get dog language. How many times have I said to people "just don't look at her?" Dogs care much more about eye contact than we do. If you meet a dog who is shy or fearful; the worst thing you can do is to look at them. You can look past them but not at them. Dogs are very highly tuned to direct eye contact. Even if I'm trying to round up Luke or Elsa for a bath, I will not look at them. Once I do they know I'm coming for them.
Luke use to be quite the guard dog. But everything rested on body direction and eye contact. When he was in the car; people could walk by just fine, even bump into our car. But, if someone did the same thing and looked into the car at him, everything changed. At 13 he doesn't care about a whole lot; nothing much gets him flustered. But in his day he was very much an eye dog.
When we meet new people each day, Elsa pretty much becomes a wiggle monster. She adores people...but; if they look into her eyes when they are petting you can literally see her pull back. There is a tiny message in those eyes; she is sure of it, even if the person means nothing by it. For dogs, eye contact means a lot.
Do you have an eye contact dog? Watch them watch other dogs and people to see. Eyes say a great deal, if you're paying attention.