Why Your Dog Is Giving You The Side Eye

Harvey on bed being playful and giving dog side eye.
Image Credit: FurBallfun.

Every dog owner knows the look: that peculiar, sidelong glance from your four-legged friend that seems to be loaded with unspoken words. It’s a moment that can turn the ordinary into the meme-worthy, often shared with laughter amongst pet lovers. Yet, behind this amusing façade lies a gesture ripe with canine communication, waiting to be understood.

But why does this matter to us as pet owners? This seemingly innocuous behavior could be your pet’s attempt at conveying discomfort, anxiety, or even a plea for attention. Misinterpreting this signal can lead to misunderstandings between you and your furry companion, potentially straining the bond you share. Recognizing the nuances of the dog side eye is crucial for anyone looking to foster a deeper connection with their pet.

The team at FurBallFun is here to help you unravel the mysteries of this canine communication. We’ll guide you through the subtleties of dog body language, offering insights into what your dog might really be saying with that sidelong glance. From identifying the signs to responding with empathy, we’re here to enhance the dialogue between you and your dog, paving the way for a stronger, more understanding relationship.

What is Dog Side-Eye?

Harvey and I playing with ball and him giving me the dog side eye.
Image Credit: FurBallfun.

Dog side eye could best be described as when the iris, or the colored part of the eye, shifts and exposes more of the sclera or the white part of the eye while keeping the head pointed in the same direction.

Have you ever noticed your furry friend giving you a sideways glance that seems to convey an array of emotions? This expression, commonly known as the “Dog Side Eye,” is more than just a funny moment; it provides insight into our dogs’ emotional state.

The behavior of dogs displaying the whites of their eyes, or the side eye, is possibly a trait that has been developed over centuries of domestication by our ancestors. While it has been humorously dubbed ‘the shady gaze,’ and sometimes referred to as ‘whale eye,’ this unique behavior carries a deeper meaning that goes beyond its portrayal in viral memes.

Human Side Eye Vs. Dog Side Eye

In humans, the side eye is a nonverbal cue typically associated with skepticism, judgment, or disdain, mixed with a bit of sarcasm. Interestingly, although dogs’ side-eye behavior can be charming, it can also express emotions of annoyance. But much like humans, dogs use the side eye to convey multiple meanings. 

Why Does My Dog Side Eye Me?

Harvey playing tug of war with a slight side eye.
Image Credit: FurBallfun.

Dogs rely heavily on body language for communication, with eye movements playing a crucial role in conveying their feelings. Indeed, a dog’s eyes can serve as a mirror to their emotions, making the Side Eye a revealing indicator of their mood. Drawing from personal observations with Harvey, here are some instances where he demonstrated the side eye:

  • In Playful Anticipation: Harvey has this adorable habit where he crouches down, ready to pounce, during playtime. He doesn’t immediately spring into action if I move slowly or shift slightly. Instead, he tracks my movements with just his eyes, resulting in that characteristic dog side eye, as if gauging the perfect moment to leap.
  • When His Peace is Interrupted: On occasions when Harvey is basking in the sun or resting, he prefers not to move. If his tranquility is disturbed, he’ll shoot a side eye my way as if to question my audacity for disrupting his relaxation. It’s as though he’s humorously admonishing me for interrupting his peaceful moment.
  • During Tense Encounters: Although it’s not common, there are moments when dogs meet, and one may stand still, allowing the other to sniff around. This situation is often accompanied by cautious side glances or side eye expressions, signaling a mix of vigilance and potential unease.
  • Expressing Desire: Harvey, like many dogs, communicates his wishes through body language, especially when he’s eyeing something he wants, be it a treat or his favorite toy. He’ll fix his gaze on the item, then flick his eyes back to me, and if I don’t respond, he’ll give me a prolonged side eye. It’s almost as if he’s asking, “Are you going to help me out here, or what?”

Through these scenarios with Harvey, it’s evident that the side eye serves as a multifaceted tool in a dog’s communicative arsenal, capable of expressing everything from playful intent to subtle demands.

What Is The Difference Between A Dog Side Eye And A Whale Eye?

Harvey dog side eye.
Image Credit: FurBallfun.

Dogs use non-verbal cues to communicate, and the “Whale Eye” is one of them. This occurs when a dog angles their head away but keeps their gaze locked onto something or someone, creating a crescent shape on the sides of their eyes. However, this is not a sign of amusement or cheekiness, but a signal of discomfort or anxiety. As a responsible pet owner, recognizing this signal is crucial to understand and respond to your dog’s needs effectively.

Unraveling the Mystery: Why Dogs Give the Side Eye

Harvey is lying on the bed, giving me the side eye.
Image Credit: FurBallfun.

The side eye look from your dog can be a puzzle. It’s a manifestation of various underlying feelings your dog might be experiencing. Understanding the context is key to deciphering this mystery. Here are a few scenarios that might trigger the side eye in dogs:

  • Protective Instincts: Dogs often exhibit the side eye when they’re guarding something precious to them, be it a favorite toy or a delicious treat.
  • Feeling Threatened: The introduction of a new pet, a stranger’s presence, or an invasion of their personal space can make dogs feel threatened, prompting the side eye.
  • Stress and Anxiety: Situations that cause stress or discomfort, such as loud noises or overwhelming environments, can also lead to this behavior.
  • Discomfort with Handling: Certain grooming activities like brushing or nail trimming might not be your dog’s cup of tea, resulting in a side eye as a sign of their unease.

It’s important to recognize that not every sidelong glance from your dog carries the weight of the Whale Eye. Curiosity and casual observation can also lead to side glances that are entirely benign. The distinction lies in the accompanying body language: a relaxed posture suggests mere curiosity, while tense muscles or other signs of distress might indicate something more serious.

How to Respond To Dog Side Eye

Corgi giving the side eye look.
Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

When faced with the dog’s side-eye, whether it is in the form of ‘whale eye’  or ‘the shady gaze,’ it’s essential to approach the situation with a bit of caution. Here are some steps to help gauge what your furry friend is trying to convey:

Give Them Space: 

If your dog is showing signs of the Whale Eye, the first step is to give them some space. This allows them to feel safe and reduces their stress levels.

Identify the Trigger: 

Observe the environment to pinpoint what might be causing your dog’s discomfort. It could be something as simple as a toy being too close to another pet or a stranger making them nervous.

Eliminate the Stressor: 

Once you’ve identified the cause, gently remove it from your dog’s environment. If the stressor is a person or another animal, calmly redirect your dog’s attention away from them.

Offer Support, Not Scolding:

Remember, your dog is communicating their feelings. Respond with reassurance and comfort, not punishment. This helps build trust and reassures your dog that you’re there to protect them.

Embracing the Side Eye

Harvey giving the dog side eye while trying to direct my attention to the new toy on the table.
Image Credit: FurBallfun.

While the Dog Side Eye might seem like a quirk, it’s a vital communication tool for our canine companions, signaling when they feel uneasy, need reassurance, or perhaps they are being a bit playful. By paying attention to these subtle cues, we strengthen our bond with our pets, ensuring they feel understood and cared for. So, the next time you catch that familiar glance, take a moment to consider what your dog might be trying to tell you. It’s not just a meme; it’s a message.

Corey Turner
Corey Turner, owner of FurBallFun.com, draws on a lifelong love for dogs and extensive pet ownership to offer a unique perspective in the pet industry. With a successful background in project management, he excels in critical analysis, precise attention to detail, and quality assurance. This expertise allows him to effectively differentiate true value from marketing hype in the pet sector. Corey’s contributions have been featured in various publications including Rockery Press Guide Books and WealthofGeeks.com. During his free time, he enjoys disc golfing, rock climbing, and bonding with his cherished FurBall friend, Harvey.