It can be quite disheartening when you notice your dog looking away from you. Especially when you first begin to notice it. But what does this behaviour mean? Is it something to worry about? Thankfully, you’ll be somewhat relieved when you find out what its all about.
So, why does my dog look away from me? A dog will generally look away from its owner to prevent eye contact. In dogs, staring is used to initiate a challenge and it is seen as a threat. So, turning is a dog’s primary way of pacifying and preventing any potential conflict.
For humans, making eye contact is generally considered the right thing to do.
We are often told that in doing so, we are showing that we are interested. That we are listening. And we are engaged in the conversation.
Not for dogs.
For them, it sends a completely different message.
So, unless they are actively trying to provoke, typically another dog or in some instances, humans, they will tend to look away.
You only have to observe dogs in their interactions see this. They’ll sniff one another, touch each other’s noses. But they’ll seldom stare into the eyes.
Well, we hope.
If they do and the opposing dog returns this gesture, chances are there’s going to be a fight.
Its rare, but it does happen. Especially in certain breeds and depending on how they have been previously socialized. So, owner beware.
Nevertheless, let us now take a closer look at this turning behavior, before we look at whether it is in fact possible, to get your dog to start looking you in the eye.
Why Does My Dog Not Want To Look At Me?
Dogs do not generally want to look at their owners. They instinctively do not feel it is safe, or right, to do so. As such, it often indicates that a dog is submissive and aware of its place in the household.
It is also more common in shy dogs, those who have had a previous traumatic experience by doing so, or they may have done something wrong and expect reprimand (which we will explore further in the next section).
In fact, if your dog was to greet you with a hard stare; chances are something is wrong.
Add this to a dominant stance, the bearing of teeth, or even a growl and it could all get quite nasty relatively quickly.
For the most part, a dog turning away is a passive dog; one that is relatively content and not in fear of their owner.
A dog turning away is therefore nothing to worry about; and should be somewhat expected.
If your dog does usually look at you, albeit momentarily, and does happen to have stopped all of a sudden, there is the possibility that they are harmed, injured, or hurt.
Dogs are very keen to hide any pain or discomfort they may be feeling; they do not want to appear weak and to be discarded from the pack.
So, you do need to remains vigilant and look for other cues, such as limping and whincing.
Its generally a good idea to contact your vet in such an instance.
What Does It Mean When Your Dog Turns Away From You?
A dog will physically turn away from its owner to diffuse a tense situation. They could be looking to lower their stress levels, or even pacify you.
We have to remember that dogs communicate in different ways – which is more physically and vocally.
Equally, dogs are very astute when it comes to analyzing and interpreting your mood and your intentions.
They pick up on subtle cues, and chances are that they will have already understood you through posture, movement, and tone of voice.
So, if you are generally quite animated, you’ve been shouting etc, chances are your dog is going to retreat a little.
They could even feel a little bit scared and feel the need to look elsewhere to avoid any confrontation.
Some dogs even anticipate this response – perhaps out of doing something wrong and expecting to be told off for it.
Its a fear response, as Scientific American explains.
This could be the chewing of furniture, going to the toilet somewhere they know they shouldn’t have, stealing food etc.
Whatever they have done; they avoid looking directly at you in fear of the repercussions.
Of course, you do not want your dog to live in fear. This is not good for anyone.
Buts, its important to be aware of, and rectify, if you suspect it is the case or if your dog is generally misbehaving.
The truth is, dogs are very socially intelligent. There’s more to this behavior than at first thought.
What Does It Mean When Your Dog Ignores You?
If your dog is ignoring you, chances are it is due to insufficient training and bad behavior. Although, there is always the possibility that it is the result of a medical issue and a dog that is suffering from poor hearing.
So, its important to first rule out a potential illness or medical condition.
From there, you will need to look into their training and level of socialization.
For instance, a young puppy is most likely to ignore their owner.
In older dogs, it is more common in adopted dogs who are yet to gain the trust of their new owners.
Nevertheless, with an appropriate training regimen focused around positive reinforcement techniques, and with consistency, a dog should soon learn what is right and wrong behaviour, and begin to listen to their owner.
Or it could be that your dog is choosing to ignore you because you have used ineffective training methods, such as punishment.
This is why it is so essential to teach clear commands and always give praise. You want your dog to associate your commands with positivity, and not out of fear of being reprimanded.
Just be sure to monitor any other behaviors, the situation it is occuring and/or accompanying symptoms.
It may very well be that they ignore you in certain situations; such as when out walking and they get sight of a wild animals.
In such instances you may need to make certain provisions, such as having treats readily available, to make the reward of not chasing greater than the chase itself.
You can always contact a professional for support with training, or attend group training sessions locally.
Can You Teach Your Dog To Make Eye Contact?
It is possible to teach a dog to make eye contact, but it is generally much easier and more effective when they are taught to do so like a puppy.
Nevertheless, you do need to be especially careful during eye contact training. If giving eye contact is greeted with any hostility or aggression in your dog, then you may need to seek out a professional and specialist to support the process.
Assuming your dog is receptive to your training, its actually quite a straightforward thing to teach.
You first need to let eye contact happen naturally. It will likely be minimal at first, but it can increase in time.
How To Teach Your Dog To Give Eye Contact
Begin by placing your dog on a leash.
Keep treats nearby and at the ready.
Wait for your dog to look up at your eyes, and as soon as they do so, provide them with a treat and give them a lot of positive praise.
In dogs that are more aloof or unlikely to look towards your face, you may need to strategically place a treat up toward your face.
If you notice your dog moving their eyes from the treat to your face; you then need to reward them with the treat and praise them heavily.
It is at this juncture, and when a dog is willing to more routinely give eye contact, you can introduce new commands such as ‘look’.
Your dog should soon begin to realize that looking in your eyes is a positive experience.
Besides, it brings treats!
At this stage, you can move onto making eye contact much more routine and regular – using it in different contexts and situations.
So, you can do so while stroking your dog, or while grooming them.
Be sure to do so from a variety of different angles, so when you are low to the ground and standing over them.
Your dog needs to get used to eye contact in different situations.
Also, be sure to do so both inside and outside of the home, such as on a walk.
Routinely use the taught command, such as ‘look’.
Just be sure to only continue with training if you are getting a positive response from your dog.
You do not want to cause stress, anxiety or aggression in your dog.
If you start to notice this you may have gone too far, or too quickly.
Be sure to keep giving treats early on. Make this a really positive experience for them.
In time, you should notice your dog more willing to give you eye contact.
Should You Look Your Dog In The Eyes?
Whether or not you should look your dog, or any dog for that matter, in the eyes will depend on your relationship with them. How familiar are they of you, are they trusting?
It will ultimately come down to your own individual context, taking into account how long you have owned them, their general age, demeanor and aptitude to looking back at you in the eyes.
Many owners are able to look their dogs in the eyes, especially if it has been taught from a young age.
However, this is something that you need to personally assess. You will need to use your own judgment.
If you do notice your dog feeling uncomfortable, then quickly move your attention elsewhere.
Never stare either.
Dogs certainly have their own behaviors and preferences. And looking away from their owners appears to be one of them.
For the most part it is nothing to worry about, but if you do want to engage in some eye contact with your dog then it may be something that you can train.
Nevertheless, a dog looking at you and exchanging eye contact is a matter of trust.
There is also a key difference between a momental glance and a stare, with the former always being recommended.
Staring in dogs is the initiation for challenge. Of course this is not something you want to imply.
Instead, if you are looking for a deeper relationship and bond with your dog, train them accordingly, trust the process, take it slow. And of course. Always incentivize with a treat!
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.