If your household is home to one or more of the nation's estimated 78 million dogs, you already know that each one has a distinct personality and their own array of reactions to the world around them. You can tell at a glance when they need to go out, when they want to be fed, or when they want you to stop what you are doing and play. But even the most astute pet parent will still often find themselves puzzled by some of the actions and responses they observe in their dogs.
Beware the "whale eye" of caution
When you look into your dog's eyes when relaxed, you will probably see very little of the sclera, or white part of the eyeball. However, if the dog is feeling stressed or threatened in some way, you may suddenly notice that more of the sclera becomes visible. Dog behavior specialists refer to this as the "whale eye" and owners who know to watch for it can often have a better understanding of what their animal is trying to say. Whale eye can be caused by many different experiences and influenced by the overall disposition of the dog, but some examples of when it might occur include:
- when a dog feels threatened or cornered by another animal or human
- when a dog is intently curious about something in their immediate environment
- when a dog is about to snap at something they feel is a threat to themselves or their human companions
- when a dog is in pain, stressed, or ill
It is important to remember that whale eye is not always a cause for concern. In fact, it can also be attributed to some animals simply because of the physical traits of their breed or their particular body conformation.
Understanding the stance
Even though there are hundreds of different breeds, most dogs will share at least some similar stances. For most breeds, four feet that are firmly planted on the floor usually means the dog feels confident and relaxed. However, if the dog is noticeably balanced more so on their hindquarters, they may be announcing that they are ready to spring forward or take off running as part of play. In situations where the dog is fearful, they are more likely to balance their body to the side so that they can quickly veer away from a perceived threat.
To learn more about your animals behavioral clues and how you should respond to them, pet parents should plan to speak with a reputable dog behavior training expert in your area. Many offer instruction for the pet parent and the animal to help them correct bad habits and enjoy a better relationship.