Categories: Behavior

Why does my dog wink at me?

Dog winks
It’s one of the most adorable facial expressions our dogs can put on for us:

The wink. Is there anything cuter?

We can easily assign meaning behind this facial expression. We can even assume greater meaning when it may just be something in the eye your dog is merely trying to blink out.   

Why do dogs wink?  Why do dogs wink at you? Why does my dog wink at me? What’s with all this winking?

Ariana Grande and her winking dog…

In spite of ourselves, we might neglect to notice a true wink is accompanied by calming signals such as a relaxed jaw, a body at rest, and ears at half-mast. As people, we use the wink for a number of reasons. We may even go so far as to assume our dog’s winks mean what our own winks mean. If yours is meant to convey, “I come in peace,” then you could be correct.

What does it mean when a dog winks at you?

Remembering that it is a dog’s job to always be at the ready to fend off the enemies, we should really take the compliment when our dogs bother to show us this developed and coordinated communication. The blink may be used as attention-seeking behavior.

We might wink at others to convey affection, or to give the obvious link to humor, or the surreptitious entre nous, just-between-us secret. For heaven’s sake, we even have winking emojis to further emphasize this facial expression in our texts.

We should give credit where it is due, too because dogs choose to make facial expressions. Whether it is the raised eyebrows or the precious puppy face or the clever wink, a dog is smart enough to learn to read our own expressions and then repeat some of them back to us. Just think about that.

Dogs naturally avoid eye contact with humans as it is a sign of dominance and certainly aggression when it occurs between dogs. It is also the reason civil authorities advise us not to make eye contact should we find ourselves face-to-face with a road rage maniac. They are appealing to the animal instinct in humans.

Winking shows us dogs are highly intelligent

We know that dogs are clever enough to study our faces in split-second timing to anticipate our moods. If they mimic our facial expressions, it is a highly intelligent method of making the communication process that much easier. While we may think dogs are limited because they cannot speak, the fact is, copying facial expressions to work with us in a form of shorthand is a dynamic effort.

I have always thought that dogs are not encumbered by the distraction of language. That does not stop them, however, from besting us people at our own methods. I melt every time my dog winks at me. It just frustrates me that I cannot capture a decent photographic image of one.

Using a classical training technique to teach your dog to wink

While dogs wink by closing and opening one eye, usually quickly, it is an indication of a playful mood and good intention. We might even see it as a peace sign, of sorts. You can even teach your dog to wink through classical conditioning. Yes, the very same theory of conditioning proposed by the famous Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov.

The repetitious stimulus associated with a response shapes behavior. For example, let’s say you want to train your dog to wink every time you say, “You don’t say.”

Follow this process:

1. Say the expression, “you don’t say.”
2. Apply gentle touch to the whiskers on the side you want your dog to wink.
3. Your dog will naturally wink when you touch her whiskers.
4. Reward her with a treat.
5. Rinse and repeat, i.e., say the expression or word, touch, treat.

Personally, I think it would be fun to capitalize on the inherent humor by simply asking in front of friends, why does my dog wink at me, and then toss out the line when appropriate. It would certainly raise some laughter.


Lastly, dog winking can indicate a genuine medical concern

On a more serious note, it is important not to neglect a genuine medical issue that looks like winking just for fun. Canine blepharospasm is a condition that is seen as the eyelid twitching or the quick winking or blinking of the eyelid.

Dogs’ eyes are much like our own in how they are designed to perform. Their corneas can be as easily scratched by sharp or pointy objects. The soft and moist pink tissue surrounding the eye, called the conjunctiva, helps cushion and protect the eye and eyelids. Tears are released onto the surface of the eyes to help flush, clean, and lubricate the surface of the eyeball.

The eyelids are primarily there to protect the eye and serve to lubricate the surface of the eyes much the same way wiper blades clean a car’s windscreen. The upper and lower eyelids briefly come together effectively shutting the eye. However, some dogs have shorter eyelids, which prevents them from properly closing or meeting the upper and lower lids when routinely blinking. The vet may prescribe eye drops or artificial tears to help in such cases.

Entropion – a common condition among brachycephalic breeds

Dogs will wink or tend to close one eye because of irritation. Dirt flecks or rogue hairs can be enough to cause irritation just as can a scratch or poke from any number of items. Such issues will become noticeable due to the amount of blinking, or continuous closing of the eye, or scratching or rubbing the eye such as on a rug or furniture.

Dog breeds with characteristically round, smushed-in faces such as pugs, bulldogs, or terriers often experience a condition called Entropion. This is a case of the upper or lower eyelids catching or flipping inside out. This causes the eyelashes to roll over the surfaces of the eyeballs. You can imagine how irritating this is as well as being a major medical issue.

Your local vet is the best source for help and advice in these and any other eye issues to prevent eye damage.

Why do dogs wink? In closing…

  • It could be they are imitating their favorite being – you.  It’s the sincerest form of flattery, you know.
  • It could be they have something in their eye.  When you get something in your eye, you blink.
  • It could be they have a medical condition that requires a vet to look into.  Just like people dogs are subject to conditions that may require medical assistance

Other “why does my dog…” articles:


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