DogSpeak: Whale eye, translated

What is whale eye or half moon eye? A term used to describe a dog’s eyes when the white portion (sclera) is showing at the corners and/or rim.

Remember that dogs use their language primarily to resolve and diffuse conflict. When they offer these signals, it’s in response to something that we or another dog are doing. In most cases, the dog is feeling anxious, a bit stressed or defensive and offers this signal in hopes that someone will see and respond accordingly (back down or also work to resolve the conflict).

We have two examples of whale eye today.

Our first dog’s stress would likely go unnoticed as he is offering more subtle cues in conjunction with the whale eye. The photo below shows a Terrier pup feeling a bit compromised by her human’s snuggle. As mentioned in the article Embrace your dog, just not literally dogs do NOT interpret our tight embraces in the same light we do. It’s probable that this pooch will keep offering whale eye and the other subtle cues with each hug. The dog, in this case, is protective of her body and does not see the hug as a nurturing gesture.

This dog is displaying whale eye during a hug

Dog: “Little less hugging, please!”

The vast majority of people would clearly understand what our second dog in this video is saying, because of the more overt signs of stress and aggression that are paired with the whale eye.

In our video example, this dog is clearly protecting his valued bone and is sending clear warnings to his owner not to come any closer. If you notice, Charles’ head is frozen in one position (toward his bone), but his eyes are moving to gauge his owner’s next move.

Dog: “If you’re as smart as they say you are, you won’t get any closer and you’ll buy Jean Donaldson’s book Mine to help me with this anxiety!”

Looking for more ways to better understand and communicate with your dog? Check out all of Colleen’s DogSpeak columns…