Our dogs often seem so human, and no more so if you catch them giving you a wink. After all, winking is such human-like behavior that you’d have to ask, “why does my dog wink at me?”
We must dig deeper to understand whenever our dogs do something that seems human. Winking is a human facial expression that dogs don’t have, so seeing a dog winking should set off alarm bells.
On the other hand, blinking is very much part of doggy body language that we often miss. Our dogs’ eyes are a primary way to communicate, so keeping on top of ocular hygiene with natural dog eye wipes is crucial. So before we look at what dog winks may mean, let’s first define the difference between winking and blinking.
Winking typically means that a dog briefly shuts one eye for a moment while blinking means they briefly shut both eyes. Remember, dogs have more than two eyelids, making blinking and winking a bit more complex than for humans.
Regardless, dogs use blinking to lubricate their eyes, wash out any foreign debris, or protect their eyes from something approaching. Pretty much the same reason any mammal has eyelids.
But the second reason has to do with a dog’s facial expressions and superior ability to communicate. In our article on whether dogs have eyebrows, we discuss how advanced dogs are in their ability to use their eyes to get us to do their bidding. Blinking is another subtle way dogs use their eyes to speak to us.
But if you notice any special canine winking or blinking, what could it mean?
An irritant or protection
If you catch your dog winking, the chances are they didn’t do it on purpose. More likely, they got a bit of dust or something near their eye that caused them to close to shut their eyelids for a moment to protect them. Dogs have long whiskers near their eyes called supraorbital whiskers that make the eyelids shut if something disturbs them. This can often look like a wink.
But before you’re disappointed, it is normal that dogs intentionally wink and blink at their owners on purpose. If you want proof (that you do not imagine your winking at you), look at this gorgeous little guy giving their owner a wink:
But why do dogs wink with one eye? Like in this video, the winking is a variation of the slow blink or affable blink that dogs sometimes do to people they love. Usually, they blink both eyes, but sometimes one eye will wink more than the other.
Affable blinking is an appeasement signal. It’s a dog’s way of telling you they want to be friends and hoping that you’ll be affectionate towards them (or share some of your pizza). Other appeasement signals include lip and nose licking, looking away, or ducking their head.
Blinking is a common way to deescalate tension between dogs. If a dog approaches your dog in an intimidating manner, and your dog turns away, blinking, it’s a sign they have good manners and are trying to avoid conflict.
Dogs who learn to wink
This usually happens if you see them do it once and immediately offer them lots of praise. This can sometimes get the dog to do it again, and if the wink is reinforced enough with treats and infection, you may soon have a winking dog.
Dogs who squint or blink rapidly may also have health issues and may need to see the vet. Many infections or eye problems can cause blinking or squinting. Often there are other signs, such as discharge or pink eye.
One condition, called Blepharospasm, can cause twitching in one or both eyes that can look like winking or blinking. It can be caused by either disease or foreign objects in the eye.
Many dog breeds are also prone to eye diseases, including corneal ulcers, impacted tear ducts, and dry eyes. All of these can lead to excessive blinking. Dog winks are more typical if the problem is in only one eye.
But if you suspect your dog has an eye infection, read our article on human eye drops for dogs before reaching for your medicine cabinet.
Do Dogs Wink On Purpose?
Yes, dogs can blink or wink on purpose. Slowly winking or blinking is a sign of affection and a dog’s way of saying they want to be friends. It is the opposite of a “hard stare,” which usually indicates aggression, or looking away, which usually indicates avoiding conflict.
Should I Wink Back At My Dog?
If your dog is blinking slowly at you, there’s no harm in blinking slowly back. Make sure that any winking is not a medical issue first. After that, if your dog is staring and winking, making mutual eye contact and returning the wink or blink is a way to tell them that you too, are friendly and mean them no harm.
Can I Teach My Dog To Wink?
Yes, you can teach your dog to wink over time. Grab some treats, gently touch the area just above their eye so that it reflexively closes, and say, “wink.”
Use a clicker to mark the behavior the second they do this, then give your dog a treat.
Only do this a few times, every few days. Eventually, your dog will learn to wink on command. But be very gentle and careful with this trick since you don’t want to hurt your dog’s eye when teaching it accidentally. Make sure that your finger is a safe distance from the eye and that you aren’t being too invasive when you encourage the blink.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Usually, a slow blink is a sign that your dog wants to be your friend and tells you that are friendly. It is called an affable blink and an appeasement signal, like ducking the head, lip licking, or licking your mouth.
Why does my dog stare at me?
Dogs stare at us to study us and read our signals so that they can predict what we might do next, such as feed them or walk them. They also stare at us out of love, as mutual staring between dogs and their owners gives both a massive boost of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Finally, they often stare when they’re trying to communicate. For instance, they may stare at us and then glance at the door to tell us they want to go outside.
If a dog is constantly winking one eye, it is usually a sign of a medical issue. They may have debris irritating the eye or an infection, making them sensitive to light. Dogs can learn to wink one eye.
Blinking both eyes is more common. A long slow blink is called an “affable blink,” which signifies that the dog wants to appease you and be your friend. But be careful of more rapid blinking or squinting if your dog has a medical condition.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.