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Why Do Dogs Wink?

Have you ever had your dog wink at you, and perhaps thought to yourself, “I wonder what that’s all about?”

Is he trying to tell me something in a very canine-specific way?

Or does he merely have something stuck in—and irritating—one of his eyes?

This is actually a fairly common question.

According to dog health websites, it’s a fairly well-known fact among some dog owners that our four-legged pets have been known to wink from time to time.

The behavior can happen indoors and outdoors, among dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes, and regardless of age.

So why do they demonstrate this tendency to wink?

Actually, the reasons for this winking behavior are many, ranging from certain eye diseases to behavioral traits that are often hardwired into the canine DNA.

To help you make more sense as to why your pooch may be winking at you, below we have listed and explained several potential reasons for the conduct.

The Reasons Dog Wink—and What to Do about Them

As fellow members of the mammal family, albeit a different species, we can choose to wink for a variety of reasons.

Those of us with winking capability (most, but not all of us), for example, might wink to silently approve of some idea or person, or we may wink to get someone’s attention or to express our interest in another person, romantic or otherwise.

As dog owners, we would love to believe that our dogs wink for many of the same reasons as do we; that perhaps a wink indicates a sign of approval from our dogs regarding our excellent skills as a pet owner!

That would be wonderful, for sure, but regardless of what we may want to believe, the truth is there are usually other factors at play when a dog decides to wink—or when he winks involuntarily.

The reasons for winking in dogs can be divided into two general categories:  behavioral reasons and medical causes.

When behavioral reasons are the culprit behind the behavior, in most cases, few if any interventions are necessary on your part.

However, when a specific health condition—one negatively affecting the eye—is causing your dog to blink or wink, the behavior is typically a sign of discomfort or distress, and one in which you should intervene to help your pet cope with the condition.

Below we have compiled what experts say are the most common reasons for winking behavior in dogs, starting with the behavioral reasons.

We have also explained how to address each of these causes—when intervention is in fact needed.

Behavioral Reasons for Winking in Dogs

The following are what vets call the “behavioral reasons” for winking in dogs.

Some of these reasons are innate, meaning dogs are born with them, and some of them are learned traits—learned by watching other pets in the house or by watching us: their owners/handlers.

Your Dog May Be Imitating You

Dogs are known to mirror all types of human behavior.

A dog that can shake hands on command, for example, is merely imitating handshakes he has witnessed over and over again.

If you are someone who likes to wink a lot, especially in the presence of your pet, his wink may be nothing more than an imitation of that action, with no specific biological or emotional reason behind it.

Your Dog Is Happy/Playful

Although experts are not sure why some dogs wink when they are feeling especially happy or playful, there can be no argument that it does happen with some dogs.

Some experts argue that rapid eye movement and winking are due to the extra pleasure chemicals that are released when a dog is playing or being doted on by his owner.

Also, if you, the dog’s owner and primary caretaker, tend to blink or wink a lot when playing with your dog, it is entirely possible that he has picked up on this clue.

In these cases, the winking is a reciprocal sign of that demonstrated happiness or playfulness.

Your Dog Is Demonstrating Submissiveness

In the world of dogs—and all of the canine species—there is the alpha and the pack.

The former is the recognized leader, and the rest are merely followers who depend on the alpha’s leadership and superiority for their survival.

With most of our dogs, we are usually recognized as the alpha of the pack—even if that pack consists merely of two members.

Winking, as a sign of submissiveness, has long been noted by dog and canine researchers, who collectively believe this is an innate trait.

Instead of looking the alpha directly in the eye, which can be interpreted as a challenge of some kind to the alpha’s authority, a dog may wink or blink to assure the alpha that he or she knows their place in the hierarchy.

As with all the other potential behavioral reasons for winking, there is really no need to address this harmless behavior.

If you have ruled out an underlying medical cause, winking as a sign of submissiveness, happiness, playfulness or imitation is just something that a lot of dogs do—and something that a lot more dogs to follow will continue to do.

Medical Causes for Winking in Dogs

While most winking in dogs is due to one or more behavioral reasons, sometimes the action could point to an underlying medical issue.

These health conditions, all of which warrant a trip to the vet for examination and diagnosis, can include:

  • Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca.  Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca, also known as “dry eyes,” is a condition in which the tear glands of your dog do not provide enough moisture, leading to dry, scratchy eyes and a lot of winking and blinking.
  • Entropion.  Entropion is a fancy word that describes how the eyelids of some dogs can fold inward and rub against the eyes, causing plenty of irritation.
  • Glaucoma.  Glaucoma is a very serious and degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness if not properly treated.  The condition can cause the eyes to become very watery—and cause dogs to wink as they try to expel the excess moisture.
  • Pink Eye.  Pink eye, which is scientifically known as conjunctivitis, is a bacterial infection of the eye.  It causes redness, itching and irritation, and it can most definitely lead to frequent bouts of blinking or winking.

All of these medical eye diseases can be serious if not properly and rapidly treated.

If you notice your dog is winking at you more than normal, or exhibiting any other eye-related symptoms (redness, discharge, pain), be sure to make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

Fast action on your part can relieve your dog’s suffering sooner, and can potentially lead to better outcomes for all of these diseases.

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National Canine Research Association of America