Dog’s don’t normally wink… or do they? If your dog has started squinting or winking at you then you might be wondering why. Here we explore all of the possible reasons.
Dog eye basics
Dogs are like us in that they communicate through facial expressions as well as through other means. Subtle eye movements can indicate fear, submission, dominance, playfulness, and everything in between. However, it is also worth remembering that winking or blinking could actually be a sign of discomfort. Medical conditions affecting the eyes could cause them to be sore, making your dog hold them shut.
Blepharospasm describes an unconscious spasm of the eyelids. This causes your dog to hold his eye shut or squint as part of a reflex action in response to pain and inflammation. The eyelids may also twitch or rapidly blink. Your dog has no control over this and symptoms usually linger, as opposed to your dog doing a one-off playful wink.
Quite often blepharospasm is accompanied by other clinical signs such as a discharge from the affected eye, inflammation of the eye itself, and discomfort that causes your dog to rub at his face. Your dog will require veterinary attention if he has blepharospasm, as eye problems can deteriorate rapidly without prompt treatment.
Reasons for winking
There are many reasons why your dog might be winking at you, including the following:
1. Health/medical concerns
A variety of conditions may cause your dog to look as though they are winking. If his eye is irritated or sore then he may be winking more than usual or holding it shut due to blepharospasm. The following conditions could cause your dog to have an uncontrolled wink:
A condition where the eyelids are rolled slightly inwards, causing the eyelashes to rub against the surface of the eye. This can irritate the eye, leading to excessive tear production, and even eye ulcers. Surgery may be required to correct this condition.
A condition called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye) can cause dogs to have sore, irritated, and sticky eyes. This is an autoimmune condition that causes a decrease in the volume of tears that the dog can produce. Medication in the form of eye drops and lubricants is usually required to keep this condition under control. If left untreated, your dog will be more prone to painful eye ulcers.
The surface of the eye (cornea) can be damaged causing pain and putting the eye at risk of secondary infection. This can happen through trauma (knocking the eye or accidentally rubbing it on something) or can be secondary to other conditions like entropion or dry eye. Eye ulcers are sore and will cause blepharospasm, making your dog look like they are winking.
Something trapped in your dog’s eye could cause them to wink excessively. Things like thorns, grass seeds, or splinters could become accidentally stuck in their eye. These could cause trauma to the surface of the eye, creating painful scratches or ulcers, or they could introduce infection. Some dogs may need sedating for the veterinarian to carefully extract the offending item.
Dogs that are suffering from conjunctivitis may squint or wink. The conjunctiva becomes inflamed and sore and you might notice more discharge from the eye than normal. This could be caused by a bacterial infection or an allergic reaction. Some dogs are sensitive to pollens, just as people are.
Glaucoma is an emergency condition where the eye becomes swollen and painful, due to an increase of fluid inside. Specialist equipment may be required to help diagnose this condition, with dogs needing medicated eye drops to help control it. In certain cases, the condition is not manageable and some dogs may end up losing their eyesight.
2. Submissive behavior
Dominance in dogs is demonstrated by direct eye contact. Quite often fights will break out between two dogs just after they have had a stare-off with each other. By breaking any direct eye contact with winking or closing of the eyes, a submissive dog will avoid a fight breaking out. As your dog won’t want to fight with you, you might see them wink if you accidentally stare at each other.
3. Attention seeking behavior
Some dogs may wink because we have inadvertently reinforced the behavior. Your dog may have winked, which caused you to react by laughing or clapping. Your dog may now continue with the behavior so that he continues to get your reaction and attention.
4. Human imitation
Many dogs copy their pet parents to fit in with the pack. You will find that your dog copies various behaviors like resting while you are resting, or even certain gestures like tilting their head when you do. If you wink a lot at your dog then you might find he starts copying this too. In multi-dog households, you may notice the younger/newer dogs copying the older, more experienced dog.
5. Happy/playful behavior
Aggressive, dominant dogs won’t want to play with you, whereas a happy and submissive dog will. Winking is a good sign that he knows his place in the world and is feeling content.
Blinking is much the same as winking except it involves both eyes. Many dogs will slowly blink as part of a calming or submissive form of communication. Friendly, keen-to-please dogs blink or wink whereas aggressive dogs will stare and try to exert their dominance. Yawning in dogs can also be used to send a similar message.
How to train your dog to wink
If you want to teach your dog a new party trick you could train them how to wink. Here’s how –
- Find a quiet place when your dog is calm and receptive
- Get them to sit
- Use a command word like “wink,” or any phrase you like
- Touch your dog’s whiskers very gently on the side of his face that you want him to blink. This will cause him to close his eye as a reflex reaction
- Give him a high-value treat as a reward
- As you repeat this action, you may start to notice your dog blinking when you say the command word, before you even touch his whiskers
- Continue to reward your dog for his new trick!
There are two broad reasons why your dog may be winking at you—a sore eye that requires medical attention or because they are trying to communicate with you. Look out for other signs of eye issues like discharge, inflammation, or rubbing. Otherwise, if it is a genuine wink then enjoy the fact your dog is feeling happy and content with his place in the world.