Is your dog looking at you with a side eye? With his or her head turned, but clearly looking at you? Is this a new form of body language for the dog, or just something you’ve started to wonder about?
Dog side eye, or “whale eye” as canine behavioral experts might call it, is a real behavior with real implications about the dog’s state of being.
When it comes to understanding what your dog is trying to tell you, body language is key. And while some dog behaviors are universal, not all are. So today, we’re decoding one of the more puzzling — and sometimes amusing — dog expressions: side eye.
What Is Side Eye?
If you’ve ever caught your dog giving you a quick glance out of the corner of his eye, you’ve seen side eye. But what does it mean? Well, that depends. According to vets, side eye can mean different things in different dogs. In some cases, it can be synonymous with “I’m watching you and I don’t trust you right now,” but in other dogs or situations, it may be their way of scanning their environment.
Side eye is generally considered to be a behavioral cue that dogs use when stressed in some way. When a dog makes side eye, they will often avert their gaze and expose the whites of their eyes. This behavior is usually accompanied by an open mouth and relaxed ears. The dog is being passive and is usually expressing some form of concern about the events that are ongoing, such as a recent scolding.
To figure out what side eye means in your individual dog, most vets recommends paying attention to his other body language cues. For example, if he’s also licking his lips or yawning, he may be feeling stressed or anxious — in which case, you’ll want to take steps to diffuse the situation (more on that below). But if he’s relaxed and her tail is wagging, he’s probably just curious about something he saw or heard and is trying to get a better look at it. You’ll have to review her body language and get more context
There are a few different reasons why dogs might make side eye. One reason is that they are feeling anxious or threatened. If you see your dog making side eye in response to someone or something, it’s best to remove them from the situation so that they can calm down.
Another reason why dogs make whale eye is that they are feeling submissive. This behavior is often seen in situations where there is an alpha (dog or otherwise, but usually a dog) present. If your dog is making whale eye around another dog, it’s important to let them work things out on their own. Remember, dogs are very good at communicating with each other through body language!
How to Respond to Side Eye
Again, how you respond to side eye will depend on what it means in your dog. If he’s feeling stressed or anxious, give him some space and try removing whatever is causing his anxiety (a new person in the house, another dog outside, etc.). You might also want to consult with a certified trainer or behaviorist who can help you identify and address the root cause of his anxiety.
On the other hand, if side eye is simply your dog’s way of checking out his surroundings, there’s no need to do anything differently. Just let him be and he’ll eventually move on to something else.
Next time your dog gives you side eye, take a step back and observe his other body language cues to figure out what he’s trying to tell you. Once you’ve decoded his message, you’ll know exactly how to respond—and when side eye is just harmless curiosity, you can rest assured knowing there’s nothing to worry about!