Ever wonder why you dog seems to suddenly turn into a flirt, batting it’s eyelashes and blinking, as another dog approaches? Have a dog who flutters their eyes at you when you arrive home after a long day? Curious WHY dogs blink?
Certainly dogs will blink to moisten their lenses, or to rid of a foreign substance that may have gotten in their eye. But I’m talking about blinking as a very intentional communication signal dogs use, and it’s an incredibly positive one, so pay attention!
Consider a dog who is scared, threatened, or uncertain in it’s environment. In this situation, a dog would fixate their eyes on what is stressing them, staring at the stressor and not removing eye contact until they felt safe. Direct stares are also considered socially offensive challenges, and commonly precede most dog fights. So how does a dog exhibit friendly eye contact? The opposite of a stare: an affable blink!
Dogs blink as a way to appease and display FRIENDLY eye contact. A blink is a negotiating tool that dogs use to tell others “I come in peace, I mean no harm!” It is a way for dogs to show that they are relaxed in their environment, and demonstrate non-threatening intent.
Blinks are typically displayed in conjunction with other calming signals, such as a polite look-away, half-mast ears, a relaxed jaw, and tenseless body. In the picture of Eleanor the mutt, she is blinking to appease the large lens of my camera, which looks like a hard staring eye ball. Her body shows no stiffness or tension, she is carrying her ears back in a peaceful manner, and her jaw is open and smiling. Everything about her communication is intentional, in attempts to pacify my impolite staring camera.
Blinking is also a great way dogs can avoid conflict. If another dog rudely comes running up to yours at the park, your dog may look away, expressing an exaggerated blink to disengage the ill-mannered approach. When I walk into a home for professional pet-sitting or dog training, I often blink excessively at a new dog that I meet, to dispel any negative energy the dog may be feeling about a stranger entering their “den”. My blinking opposes aggressive or nervous displays from the dog, and often helps them bond to me quicker, realizing I am no longer a threat.