Interpreting Dogs Side Eye Signals and Messages

dogs side eyeWelcome to the fascinating world of canine communication! Just as with humans, dogs have a unique body language they use to express their emotions, desires, and discomforts. An often overlooked yet vital part of this language is the ‘dogs side eye’ or the ‘whale eye.’ These intriguing eye signals can speak volumes about what your furry friend is trying to convey.

As dog owners, understanding these eye signals can enrich our bond with our pets, helping us respond to their needs more effectively. But distinguishing between the side eye and the whale eye can be tricky, and these expressions can mean different things in different contexts. Furthermore, certain eye behaviors might even indicate health issues.

In this blog, we aim to demystify these canine eye signals. We’ll help you interpret your dogs side eye, compare it with the whale eye, delve into the emotional context, and address potential health concerns. This knowledge will ultimately enable you to improve communication with your canine companion.

Understanding the Side Eye Dog

In the canine world, the side eye isn’t a sass-filled look of disdain but rather an important part of a dog’s nonverbal communication toolbox. But what exactly is this dog side eye and what does it mean?

The Language of Dog’s Eyes

Dogs primarily communicate with their body language. The dog’s eyes play a significant role in expressing their emotions and intentions. Notably, a dog might give a side eye dog expression – this involves partially looking to the side, showing the white part of the eye (the whites of their eyes), and often appears as a half-moon eye. This signal can communicate a variety of messages, from discomfort and anxiety to contentment, depending on the situation and the individual dog.

Recognizing the Side Eye in Different Breeds

While all dogs use eye signals, the dog side eye can look quite different between dog breeds. For example, a golden retriever might exhibit a subtle side eye, with just a sliver of white showing. On the other hand, breeds with more prominent eyes, such as a Siberian husky or a basset hound, might show a more pronounced half-moon shape. Recognizing these variations can help you better understand your furry friend’s messages.

side eye dog

The Whale Eye in Dogs

While the side eye dog expression is a common sight, another important yet often misunderstood signal in a dog’s eye language is the whale eye. Let’s dive deeper into understanding this behavior.

Identifying the Whale Eye

The whale eye is characterized by the dog turning its head away but keeping its gaze fixed on something or someone, resulting in a larger portion of the whites of their eyes being visible in a distinctive half-moon shape. It’s called the “whale eye” because the wide, round eyes and exposed whites resemble that of a whale’s eye. This eye signal is usually associated with anxiety, discomfort, or stress in dogs.

The True Whale Eye Versus Side Eye

Although both the whale eye and the dog side eye involve showing the whites of a dog’s eyes, they’re used in different contexts. The true whale eye is often a sign of nervousness or fear, displayed when a dog is feeling threatened or uncomfortable.

On the other hand, the side eye can communicate a broader range of emotions, from discomfort and wariness to relaxed contentment, depending on the situation and the dog’s personality. Understanding these differences is crucial for interpreting your dog’s nonverbal cues accurately.

The Emotional Context of Side Eye and Whale Eye

Just like humans, dogs express their emotions and intentions through a variety of signals, including eye movements. By understanding the emotional context of the side eye dog and the whale eye, we can build stronger, more empathetic relationships with our furry friends.

Facial Expressions and Dog Emotions

Facial expressions can offer profound insights into a dog’s emotional state. For instance, the side eye could be a sign of a relaxed dog when it’s accompanied by other relaxed body language cues like a loose, wagging tail or an open mouth.

On the other hand, the same expression in a different context – say, when a dog’s body language appears tense or guarded – might signal discomfort or wariness. Similarly, a pronounced whale eye is often seen in an anxious dog and can signal stress or fear. By paying close attention to these signals, we can better respond to our dogs’ emotional needs.

Deciphering Warning Signs and Defensive Responses

Sometimes, a dog’s side eye or whale eye can serve as a warning sign. For example, if a dog displays these signals when guarding a high-value item like a bone or their favorite toy, it could be a defensive response signaling a perceived threat. In such cases, it’s crucial to respect the dog’s space and possibly seek guidance from a professional dog trainer to prevent unwanted behavior and ensure safety. Understanding these signals and responding appropriately can strengthen your bond and foster trust with your furry friend.

dog side eye

The Health Aspect of Your Dog’s Eyes

Beyond communication, your dog’s eyes also give clues about their physical health. Certain behaviors and signals can indicate underlying health issues, so it’s important to stay vigilant.

Red Eyes, Dry Eye, and Corneal Ulcer

Sometimes, the whites of your dog’s eyes may appear red or bloodshot, which could be a sign of various eye conditions. Red eyes could indicate allergies, infections, or injury. Dry eye, a condition where the eye doesn’t produce enough tears, often results in redness, as well as a sticky discharge. Another concern could be a corneal ulcer, which is a painful open sore on the surface of the eye that could cause redness, tearing, and a hazy or blue appearance on the front of the eye. A dog side eye might be more noticeable in these conditions due to discomfort.

When to Seek a Veterinary Ophthalmologist

It’s crucial to take your dog to the vet if you notice any changes in their eyes or if the dog side eye expression is coupled with signs of distress like squinting, excessive blinking, or pawing at the eye. In serious conditions like primary glaucoma or secondary glaucoma, where there is increased pressure in the eye, prompt treatment by a veterinary ophthalmologist is critical to prevent vision loss.

Always remember observing your dog’s eye behavior and signals closely is the best way to spot potential health issues early.

Practical Tips for Dog Owners

Now that we understand what our dogs are trying to tell us with their eye signals, how do we use this knowledge? In this section, we’ll cover some practical tips to help you respond effectively to your dog’s nonverbal cues.

Reinforcing Desirable Behaviors and Discouraging Unwanted Ones

One of the most important things as a dog owner is to reinforce desirable behaviors and discourage unwanted ones. For example, if your dog shows a relaxed side eye when you’re petting them or playing with their chew toy, rewarding them with a pat or a treat can reinforce this positive behavior.

On the other hand, if your dog exhibits a tense side eye or whale eye, especially around high-value items, it’s important to discourage any unwanted behavior and consult a professional dog trainer for guidance.

Enhancing the Dog-Human Bond

Understanding your dog’s eye signals is an excellent way to enhance your bond with them. Engage in activities they enjoy, whether it’s a game of fetch with their favorite toy, a training session with special treats, or just some cuddle time on the couch. Paying close attention to their body language and responding empathetically to their needs can build trust and make your dog feel loved and secure. Always remember, a happy, relaxed dog is less likely to exhibit the side eye as a warning sign or defensive response.

what is dogs side eye?


Understanding and interpreting your dog’s eye signals, especially the side eye and the whale eye, can seem like a complex task. However, with careful observation and a little knowledge, we can learn to speak their language. By recognizing these signals and responding appropriately, we not only promote better communication with our furry companions, but we can also ensure their emotional and physical well-being.

While all dogs are unique, with their own templates of communication, knowing these common signals is a great deal of help.

Whether you own a Golden Retriever, a Siberian Husky, or a little Shih Tzu, next time your dog gives you a side eye, you’ll be able to interpret what they’re trying to say, building an even stronger bond with your best friend. Remember, as a responsible dog owner, it’s not only about understanding their signals but also about responding to them in a way that makes our dogs feel safe, comfortable, and understood.

FAQ Section

In this section, we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about dogs side eye signals and messages.

Is the Dogs Side Eye a Good Thing or a Warning Sign?

The dog’s side eye can mean different things in different contexts. It can be a sign of relaxation when the dog is calm and comfortable, but it can also serve as a warning sign or a defensive response if the dog is feeling threatened or uncomfortable.

How Can I Tell if My Dog Has Dry Eye or a Corneal Ulcer?

Symptoms of dry eye include redness, discharge, and frequent blinking, while a corneal ulcer may cause the eye to appear hazy or blue, and it might look like your dog is squinting or rubbing at their eye. If you notice any changes in your dog’s eyes, it’s always a good idea to consult with a vet.

How Should I Respond When My Dog Gives Me the Side Eye?

Context is key. If the side eye occurs in a relaxed context, it’s probably nothing to worry about. However, if your dog displays the side eye or whale eye when they seem tense or fearful, it’s best to give them space and remove any potential stressors. If the behavior continues, consulting a professional dog trainer can be beneficial.

Are There Specific Breeds More Prone to Giving the Side Eye?

While all dogs can give the side eye, breeds with more prominent eyes, such as the Siberian Husky or the Basset Hound, might display a more noticeable side eye or whale eye.

What Is the Most Common Reason for a Dog To Show the Whites of His Eyes?

The most common reason a dog shows the whites of his eyes is due to feeling uncomfortable, stressed, or threatened. However, it could also be due to an underlying health condition, especially if other symptoms accompany the eye behavior.

Is It a Bad Sign if I See the Whites of My Dog’s Eyes a Great Deal?

Frequently seeing the whites of your dog’s eyes, especially if accompanied by other signs of stress or discomfort, could indicate that your dog is frequently feeling threatened or uncomfortable. It may also be a sign of an eye health issue. It’s best to consult with a vet in such cases.

Are There Any Toys or High-Value Items That Could Help My Dog Relax and Stop Giving Side Eye?

High-value items like a favorite chew toy or special treats can help to distract and relax your dog. However, if your dog displays the side eye while guarding such items, it might be best to seek advice from a professional dog trainer to handle the situation correctly and safely.

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