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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The following was recently posted in another thread here:
Learning to Speak Dog Part 4: Reading a Dog’s Body | Tails from the Lab

And that site, as many others, does not distinguish between casual eye contact and a hard stare. Because of that I have seen people nearly fall over their own feet as they try to move without looking at the dog. They only say "direct eye contact" and it's certainly not clear what that means, so people take it literally. But, what does this mean?

Pass a stranger on the street with casual eye contact and nothing happens. But give him a hard and fixed stare and you'll likely see a reaction. Most people have at some time seen a dog give a threatening stare and the other dog's reaction (often turning away), yet dogs do typically look at each other when they meet.

Now, if a dog does assume a stiff posture and stares hard at me, I'll look over to the side a bit. Same for a very scared dog who's avoiding any eye contact with me. Come to think of it, I'd likely do just the same for a stranger I'm passing on the street.

While reviewing a local dog trainer who had told his class to simply avoid eye contact, I asked him why he didn't explain more of this. He agreed with what I said, but felt that people were too easily confused by the explanation.

Any opinions out there on this one? Either on my opinion or that dog trainer's?
 

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I think the trainer is likely right, lol, in that most people would get confused. Perhaps I underestimate humans here, though. :D I tend to do that, especially when it comes to dog issues. Maybe I've heard, "Oh I know he knew he did wrong, you should've seen the guilty look he gave me!" just way too many times. :)

I think you are speaking of a very instinctual type of issue here. Meaning that when a person "meets" a dog, the cues and clues are lightning fast. There isn't time for a person to get out their clipboard and check off body posture, ears, etc. :) They just feel it and react in kind (aversion of eyes to side, etc) or... they don't pick up on any of it... which is likely the majority of human beings really.

And really, you don't get that dog sense overnight obviously. I think the trainer is taking the easy way out, but understandably. Some things can't be taught. Still, though, it might be best for him not to push never looking at a dog in the eye. That's a lil extreme, lol.
 

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Pass a stranger on the street with casual eye contact and nothing happens. But give him a hard and fixed stare and you'll likely see a reaction.
Now, if a dog does assume a stiff posture and stares hard at me, I'll look over to the side a bit. Same for a very scared dog who's avoiding any eye contact with me. Come to think of it, I'd likely do just the same for a stranger I'm passing on the street.

While reviewing a local dog trainer who had told his class to simply avoid eye contact, I asked him why he didn't explain more of this. He agreed with what I said, but felt that people were too easily confused by the explanation.

Any opinions out there on this one? Either on my opinion or that dog trainer's?
Your explanation makes perfect sense, and that's is probably the way the dog trainer should explain it in his class. If you can relate things back to human behavior, sometimes it is easier for people to understand.
 

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I agree with you.

Sometimes I think the best way to teach humans how to train a dog is by doing human demonstrations. Do to them what they do to dogs and they will understand; sometimes they just need to see things from the dog's point of view. I've actually done that once trying to show somebody how their dog feels when they use positive reinforcement vs. punishment.

I think in a class, you could very easily demonstrate the difference between a stare and casual eye contact. Stare down a student and make them feel awkward. They can relate to that and they will understand it. It's an important difference.
 

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I agree 100% with TiggerBounce. There is a huge difference between casually glancing at someone, and staring into their eyes. Explaining it to a group with a human comparison is vastly useful.

In all honesty, I think that completely avoiding eye contact can be problematic as well. There is a fairly big body of research into dog's facial expressions and emotions, and most of it suggests that dogs look to the face to get a "read" on the other dog/human, as well as looking at body language in general. If you are avoiding ANY eye contact, then you are probably turning your face away, and that means that the dog can't read you!! Going back to the human/animal comparison - imagine how weird it would be if you met someone who wouldn't shake your hand, who kept backing away and not looking you in the eye - it would be a cause for concern.

As much as over-humanizing dogs can be an issue, I find it is often more effective in teaching other people - try to explain how to angle your body, etc etc can still lead to them doing the correct action...in the wrong way. How many times have you seen someone try to hold out their hand for a dog to sniff...and basically SHOVE it in their face while staring intently at them? I think that it is a similar thing when people hear "don't make eye contact with a strange dog" - if they don't understand the reasoning behind the action, it is easy to take it to the other extreme, and have the opposite of the desired effect.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
In all honesty, I think that completely avoiding eye contact can be problematic as well. There is a fairly big body of research into dog's facial expressions and emotions, and most of it suggests that dogs look to the face to get a "read" on the other dog/human, as well as looking at body language in general. If you are avoiding ANY eye contact, then you are probably turning your face away, and that means that the dog can't read you!! Going back to the human/animal comparison - imagine how weird it would be if you met someone who wouldn't shake your hand, who kept backing away and not looking you in the eye - it would be a cause for concern.
I think you're quite correct here, and the dog has a harder time reading your intentions.

I'm going to send that to a few dog trainers and see what response I get, if any.

Does anybody know of any articles or guides on dog training, signals & body language or such, where they do explain this to people? I've seen very few.
 

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I try not to give hard stares to dogs anymore,and will purposly look away if I feel a stare down is happening. I don't avoid all eye contact though.

As a kid I always gave dogs hard stares,there was a non friendly standard poodle that would run loose and I remember trying to stare it down.
I've had a Doberman and a Cane Corso not appreciate it though.

With your own dogs,unless they have major temperamental issues there is no reason to avoid looking in the eyes. It is mainly with strange dogs.
 
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