I recently noticed that dogs see directly into the humans eyes. Clearly the same for wolves.

Why do they do it? Is is only for communication or affection?

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    I'd like to hear where the "clearly the same for wolves" comes from? Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 5:12
  • Wolves and dogs are different and we should not always refer to wolves when talking about dogs. Clearly llamas also have 4 legs and yet we don't consider wolves when talking about them...
    – Cedric H.
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 10:06
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    I'll always catch my cats staring at me and I'll look deep in to both of their eyes and tell them I love them soooooo much and as im talking they continue to look at me in the eyes. What's it mean when cats do it??
    – user3513
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 2:45
  • It means that you are really interesting. Or a mouse.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 21:59

6 Answers 6


Many people (including myself) believe that dogs can read and understand human emotions. Studies attempting to look at this claim from a scientific point of view have shown that humans display emotions and feelings through their eyes.

It was found that when two people meet, they look into the right side of human face first and the same behaviour was found with dogs - dogs look at the right side of human face first as that side displays the strongest of emotion.

I recently watched a BBC documentary that was very closely related to this article and what I took away from that is the key why dogs are so close to humans are because they can "understand" your emotions and feelings and react accordingly, and they do that by reading into your facial expressions, esp. your eyes. (See the relevant sequence of the documentary on Youtube)

I cannot speak for wolves, but dogs at least seem to gaze into humans eyes to gauge our emotions.

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    This is nice answer to how dogs read us, but as you say, dogs look at our face, and gestures and posture, not quite directly to our eyes. Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 19:39
  • I think it's worth noting that dominance comes into play with the subject of eye contact. If your dog sees you as the alpha-male, he won't hold direct eye contact. You'll notice that the dog will look away from eye contact, and look right back as you look away. Info originally based on Dog Whisperer. No scientific links/source article, but I notice this with my dogs.
    – user2477
    Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 19:44
  • Easy to test, wear a mask with sunglasses
    – Huangism
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 13:56

The reason depends on the rest of the body language.

If the ears are down and the tail is up then staring in the eyes is a show of challenge to your dominance. Most of the time if you see this and tell the dog to knock it off (or what ever your method is) the dog will back down and that is the end of it. This behavior can be dangerous if the dog is exhibiting it towards children. It is important if you see that, that you correct it or you risk your dog acting out aggressively towards the child.

My pugs exhibit a behavior where they will get a sad face, pull their ears back, put their tail down demonstrating submission and look at me trying to get attention. Someone with a stiffer spine than I have would do well not to indulge this behavior because once you reward it you find that the dog will employ it more often. Trust me on that... Though I have to admit it is so freaking cute and really who can resist a pug looking pitiful.

The other frequent behavior I have witnessed is ears up and tail up because they want to play. Many times my dogs will exhibit this behavior by bringing me a toy they want to play with, or when I am absentmindedly playing with one of their toys. This is just their way of letting them know they want to play with you.

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    This answer needs more upvotes. The dog looking into the human's eyes means that either the dog is challenging for dominance or views itself as dominant. A dog who believes that he is the leader often has all sorts of behavioral issues. Remember that a dog is not a human, and in the dog's mind, the family is the pack and there must be a leader.
    – rlb.usa
    Commented Dec 18, 2013 at 18:08
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    @rlb.usa, I agree, challenging for dominance is also one of the important reason why dogs look into human eyes. But dogs also do that with other dogs / animals of same size and the question was particularly about humans so the emotion-reading was what came to my mind immediately. (notice how the question doesn't talk about aggression, rather, it talks about affection)
    – iamserious
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 11:22
  • Hard eyes or staring are properly classified as threat or predatory sequence signals, not "dominance."
    – CodeGnome
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 16:53

Because they intend to know your intention. That's also unique in dogs not wolves; They don't have any interest to keep eye-contact with humans.


"Clearly the same for wolves" That is absolutely incorrect!

Dogs are the only animal on Earth that will look a human directly in the eye. Not even chimpanzees can do that. As far as wolves? Whoever posted that has been watching too many movies. Wolves do not look humans in the eyes nor do they have any direct companionship with humans.

This was proved via NatGeo special which specifically told the difference of a dog and a wolf and their human owners. The wolf, as much as you may want it to happen, can NEVER be bonded with a human. The wolf will ALWAYS be independent. The wolf has no bonding instincts as dogs do. It will NEVER happen. Dogs, on the other hand, bond easily with humans. They are the only ONLY species that will look a human in the eye AND understand facial expressions as well.

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    Welcome to Pets! Can you back this up with some facts or references, such as which special you got this information from? As it stands, this feels like more of a rant than an answer, without that sort of support to strengthen it.
    – user53
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 0:50
  • Sounds like rant to me too, but the thing behind that rant is the same what I think. Would be much better answer if cleaned a bit. Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 5:04
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    My cats look me in the eyes all the time. We have staring contests daily.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 22:03
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    That's a lot of NEVER and ONLY...
    – Cedric H.
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 10:09
  • Have you studied this observation "no other animals look you in the eye"? I do not know about wolves, as I have never been around one.. Chimps and gorillas do look people in the eye..
    – user3025
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 23:56

Dogs will share a long gaze with humans, for 30 or 40 seconds. This doesn't vary due to whether the dog was raised with the person being looked at. Dogs have 20/20 to 20/100 vision, which means they can see where the person they look at is looking. [Nagasawa, M., et al. (2015) "Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds" Science, 17:333-336] [Miller, P.E. & C.J. Murphy, (1995) "Vision in dogs" JAVMA, 207(12):1623-1634]

Although some cat owners insist they share long gazes with their felines, this has not been documented in controlled settings. All that's been shown is that some cats appear to share a gaze about as long as other domesticated animals do, such as horses (3-5 seconds.) A cat's visual acuity is between 20/100 and 20/200, which means cats do not see where the human's eyes are directed unless they are very close. [Miklósi, A., et al., (2005) "A comparative study of the use of visual communicative signals in interactions between dogs (Canis familiaris) and humans and cats (Felis catus) and humans" J. Comp. Psychol. 119, 179]

Besides humans, no other animal shares such a long gaze, with humans or each other. Dogs look at each other for long periods without triggering fight/flight cortisol response. Dogs are promiscuous and gregarious, scientific terms that mean they do not have social heirarchies, status-limited mating, or alpha dominants. This is completely unlike wolves and other canids. Genetic evidence pushes dog speciation back to well over 40,000 years, long before domestication. Dogs were dogs before humans were involved. It's very possible that dog capacity to share gaze predates domesication, and even encouraged it. [Coyle, B. M. (2018, October 30). How Dogs Domesticated. doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/9zxgd]


Because humans and dogs have had such a long symbiotic relationship, it started off with wolves that had a slightly 'no flight' response. As we evolved with 'our best friends', they slowly lost their fear of us because of the left overs... we had. Over time and selective breeding we have a choice of different types of breeds. Back to the question of whether they can make meaning-full eye contact, I have no doubt. I've had dogs all my life. That direct look has a lot of thinking going on. In dog terms, of course. Who is the smarter one?

  • if you looked the wolves part was crossed out. Please edit your answer to match the whole entire question. Plus it does look like you have some unsourced material
    – Derrick K.
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 15:40

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