You might have seen images of a dog side eye something on the internet, or perhaps you own a dog, and have caught them looking at you from the corner of their eyes.

Dog side eye is amusing to look at, but can actually mean quite the opposite. Unlike humans, dogs don’t side eye to judge you, but because they are uncomfortable.

Dog side eye is a form of nonverbal communication that expresses that they are feeling stressed or anxious. This is also called whale eye, and is when the dog looks over at whatever is causing them to feel tense.

Side eye doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something to be concerned about, but if something is stressing the dog out, you should consider what it is and why they are stressed about it.

We looked into all the resources we could find about dog side eye to understand when it happens and why, and have put the information together in one place.

Table of contents


What is a Whale Eye?

Dog side eye is called ‘whale eye’ or ‘moon eye’ and is the term used to describe the specific facial expression of a dog looking at something from the corner of their eyes. The way to identify is that the whites of their eyes become very clearly visible. According to ASPCAPro, this is because when dogs feel tense, their eyes look rounder, which makes the whites of the eyes – the sclera – become more visible.

Usually, the whites of the eyes will be showing in a half-moon shape (thus the name, ‘moon eye’) but sometimes you might see it all around.

When you see a dog side eyeing something, they are looking at it closely, which pushes their pupils to the side and makes the whites more visible.

What Does Whale Eye Mean In Dogs?

When a dog is side-eyeing something, it means that they are stressed out and anxious in the given situation, and may even be outright fearful. While whale eyes look amusing, it is a sign that your dog is not comfortable. If you see your dog exhibiting whale eyes, you should consider the reasons they may be feeling this way.

Since whale eye means that a dog is stressed, you should also keep in mind that they are more likely to become aggressive. This may be to defend themselves, but remember that anxious dogs are more likely to bite, and this is particularly true if your dog is already a bit aggressive by nature.

If you notice that your dog is exhibiting whale eyes, do not approach them immediately. Wait until your dog is more relaxed before you try to interact with them.

Take a look at the dog’s surroundings as well. If there is a stranger, or another animal close by, this may be what has your dog on edge. Even if you do realize what it is that may be causing your dog to feel burdened, don’t approach them just yet. Dogs have much better hearing and smell than we do, and may have detected something that we can’t yet – such as someone outside the door, or a child reaching for your dog’s toys.

Dogs will also sometimes show whale eyes if they are uncomfortable with something someone is doing to them. This could be anything from getting their nails trimmed, to even hugs! When a stranger or someone your dog doesn’t like hugs them, they may feel anxious and exhibit whale eyes.

Whale eyes are common to see in dogs that are uncomfortable or feeling tense, but how do you know that this is the case? There is always the possibility that your dog is just looking over at something.

The way to recognize it is the position of your dog’s head. Dogs express a great deal of themselves through their body language. Some of these are easily recognizable, such as wagging their tail when they’re happy, but other behavior may be less known.

If a dog is feeling crowded or wants to keep a distance from something that may be making them feel uncomfortable, they will break eye contact with it and look in another direction. At the same time, because they are anxious about it, they will keep their head facing forward and turn their pupils to their side so they can keep an eye on it. This is what produces the whale eye effect.

While the position of the head can give a pretty good idea as to whether the dog is feeling uncomfortable or not, there are other forms of nonverbal communication you can watch out for to determine whether your dog is stressed or not. For example, if their tail is tucked between their legs, they are likely to be feeling fear or stress.

What To Do When You Notice Your Dog Showing Whale Eyes?

If your dog – or a dog around you – is showing whale eyes, the best thing you can do for them is give them space. Again, a dog that shows signs of being tense is likely to be aggressive and may bite.

Leave the dog alone and try to figure out what it is that could be making them feel uncomfortable. Also keep an eye out for any aggressive cues, like snarling, that can indicate that they may be about to attack. You’d want to get any children or weaker animals away from the dog in such cases.

If it’s your dog, chances are that they want you to notice that something is wrong. The best course of action when your dog is stressed is to remove the stressor from the environment.

If the stressor happens to be something you’re doing, you should stop, even if it’s important. Let them calm down and coax them into letting you continue. If you stress an already stressed dog further, you could be putting yourself in danger.

If the stressor happens to be something in the environment, you should remove it. Sometimes, you won’t be able to remove the stressor itself – for example, if you are in a public space and another person or dog walks by. In such cases, you should remove your dog from the environment instead.

Remember that your dog is already tense and on-edge, so you may have to coax them a bit before they actually move.

Try not to force your dog, since this can upset them further. When your dog exhibits whale eyes, it’s because they are trying to let you know that something is upsetting them, and you don’t want to rebuke your dog when they trust you with their well-being.

However, sometimes dogs will just feel aggressive and tense for no real reason. The stressor itself may be external, but say your dog feels uncomfortable around your own children. In such cases, you can’t remove either one from the environment and will have to do something about it. You should consult a trainer in such situations, and get help on how to fix this behavior.

Remember, whale eye is a sign that something is wrong, but not every time your dog’s sclera is visible is whale eye. Sometimes, your dog may just be looking up at you after a scolding or when they want a treat.

The key here is to recognize other nonverbal cues to identify whether your dog is feeling defensive, or if they are simply looking at something a certain way.

Whale eye is a natural response to an unwanted stimulus. If you see your dog giving the side eye to something or someone around them, give them the space they need to get used to the environment they are in and reassure themselves of their security before you interact with them.


Russell Wright

Russell Wright

I have had dogs my whole life and have always trained my own dogs with patience and positive reinforcement. My dogs are my life. My family always had dogs growing up. I've trained dogs for clients while working at a local dog daycare. I hope that my research and experiences are helpful to you as I share them here.

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