Why Do Dogs Wink?

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November 4, 2022 / Behavior / By: Krystine Therriault

A little chihuahua dog winking

If you’ve recently noticed your dog winking at you, you might be wondering, “Why do dogs wink anyway?”

There are four main reasons why dogs wink: they’re being friendly and submissive, they’ve been trained to wink, have a minor eye injury and in some cases winking could signal a health issue.

Continue reading for more details about why dogs wink and when it warrants a trip to the vet.

Four Reasons Why Dogs Wink

1. They're been friendly and submissive

Eye contact is an important part of body language for humans and dogs. As humans, we expect people to maintain eye contact with us when we’re talking, but not stare because it makes us uncomfortable. For dogs, a staring, unblinking gaze is a sign of aggression.

Anecdotal evidence from dozens of dog owners shows that the primary reason why dogs wink at us is simple, it’s one of the methods they use to communicate. Many owners have shared endearing stories of how they started winking back at their dogs and how their dogs responded to being winked at.

In response to a question asked on QuoraKirsten Bischoff shared,

“When I got my puppy she was scared of everything. I would look at her and give her a wink to let her know that it was okay. Soon she started to wink back at me whenever I did it to her first. Now she will make eye contact with people for a while and then wink at them.”

Cats so something similar when they blink slowly to show they trust us.

2. They’ve been trained to wink

According to Dr. Caroline Coile, PhD, dogs can easily be trained to wink using Pavlov’s technique of classical conditioning. If you adopted a dog who had previous owners, and you notice that your dog winks when you say a certain word or for no apparent reason, they may have been trained to do it.

If you want to train your dog to wink, the process is simple:

Step 1

Start by choosing a cue word, like “Wink!” or “No way!”

Step 2

Lightly touch your dog’s whiskers on the side where you want them to wink, they will do it automatically as a reflex… give them a reward.

Step 3

Repeat until your dog winks before you touch their whiskers.

With the right enticing reward, it won’t take long for your dog to associate your cue word and winking with good things.

Before you know it you’ll just have to say the word and your pup will wink at you. This trick isn’t as common as most basic commands and will definitely make people talk!

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The best way to achieve this is using a low-calorie dog treat like the Pet Botanics Mini Training Reward treats where each treat packs only 2 calories and comes highly recommended by thousands of professional trainers.

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3. Sustained minor eye injury

Since dogs can’t express when they’re in pain, it’s essential you stay alert to signs and symptoms that there might be a problem. And this goes for their eyes, too.

An active dog is going to get himself in all sorts of mischief and after going for a long hike your pooch may end up with an eye injury or any other bodily injury for that matter!

After washing your hands, gently and carefully pull the eyelid down to check for signs of redness, puffiness, excess discharge or debris inside the eyelid.

If you notice any of these issues and/or your dog is also pawing at its eyes frequently, seek immediate veterinary care not allowing a minor issue to progress to a major one.

4. Health-related winking

Unfortunately, there’s a fourth, more somber reason why your dog might be winking and that’s as a result of an underlying health issue.

The technical term for involuntary eye spasms in canines is blepharospasm, which is characterized by eye twitching, squinting, and closing one eye repeatedly. It’s pretty easy to identify this type of winking because it’s more excessive than the first two types.

If you’ve decided that your dog’s winking is involuntary and potentially health related, it’s important to schedule a visit with their veterinarian to pinpoint the reason for the spasms.

Blepharospasm can result in permanent eye damage, which is why it’s important to address it as soon as you see it happening.

Reasons for Blepharitis in Dogs

Blepharospasms have many possible explanations, some minor and others more serious.

These include:

  • Dust or debris in the eye
  • Dry eyes
  • Eye infection
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Inflammation
  • Neurological problems

It’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive.

There are many unique circumstances that could cause a dog to wink a lot suddenly. For example, the book Senior Dogs for Dummies tells the story of Kimi, a nine year old cocker spaniel who always winks after being taken to the vet in 2000 for red eyes revealed hemorrhaging, a detached retina, and a glaucoma diagnosis all in a short period of time.

Depending on the cause of your dog’s winking, you might notice other symptoms like redness, watery eyes, and swelling. In most of these cases treating the underlying cause will put a stop to the excessive winking, like clearing up an infection or removing debris.

Depending on the amount of eye damage your dog may still wink post-recovery.

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For dryness of the eyes, Optixcare Eye Lube is a moisturizing ophthalmic lubricant in a carbomer gel used to relieve and prevent dryness in your dog’s eyes. Apply this over the counter gel by instilling one-two drops into your dog’s eye as needed. Depending on the condition or ailment that your dog is suffering from, a veterinarian may indicate how often to administer it.

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Before you administer eyedrops to your pet’s eyes, it’s essential to pre-clean the affected area each and every time you re-administer.

To make an all-natural eyedrop, you’ll just need to use salt and water. Add ¼ of a tsp. of salt to a sterile container containing 1 cup of lukewarm water and mix it well. Use three to four times per day as needed.

Burt's Bees for Pets Dogs Natural Eye...

Burt’s Bees for Dogs Eye Wash is another natural eye wash with saline solution that is safe to use and mimics your dog’s own tears. This all natural-ingredient eye wash is gentle on your dog’s eyes and does not cause irritation. Use as directed by applying 2-3 drops into the affected eye to clean out any debris, or minor scrapes.

Click here to view this eye wash for dogs on Amazon

How is Blepharospasm Diagnosed in Dogs?

If you have no idea what could be causing your dog’s excessive winking, your vet will have to do a thorough examination and run a few tests to pinpoint the cause. They may need to sedate your dog to examine their eye fully (including the eye itself, lids, and tear ducts).

A couple tests they might run are the Schirmer tear test and fluorescein eye staining.

The Schirmer tear test measures the adequacy of your dog’s tear production to make sure they aren’t suffering from complications from dry eyes.

Fluorescein eye staining uses dye and blue light to look for debris or other damage to the eye.

How is Blepharitis in Dogs Treated?

Treating blepharospasm is not one-solution-fits-all. Your vet will prescribe a treatment based on the underlying cause of your dog’s excessive winking.

Depending on the severity of the issue, treatment could involve anything from eye drops to surgery.

You can’t be too careful when it comes to eye issues in dogs! It’s always best to seek veterinary treatment if you suspect a problem.

Additional Questions

What can I do to protect my dog’s eyes?

There are a couple of things that you can do to avoid unnecessary eye issues for your dog. The main thing is to be mindful and aware at all times. Before heading into a new environment with your dog, ask yourself if their eyes will be at any particular risk.

For example, it’s best not to let your dog stick their head out of a car window. Avoid working areas where there might be flying debris. Distract your dog if you see them rubbing their face against things or pawing at their face. Don’t let them play too roughly with other dogs.

Clean around your pet’s eyes and remove any crustiness in the corners of their eyes. Some breeds are more prone to that then others.

Keep a dog’s long coat groomed and trim long, eye-length fur as this can cause scratches, infection, or in the worst cases, blindness.

What common eye problems in dogs could cause winking?

Another way to protect your dog’s eyes is to examine them frequently for any chances that may indicate something is wrong.

According to the American Kennel Club’s Pet Insurance, the 6 most common eye problems in dogs are cherry eye, damaged cornea, dry eye, a lump on the eyelid, glaucoma, and cataracts.

Early diagnosis is important when treating eye problems to reduce the chances of permanent damage. These eye problems all involve some degree of irritation or inflammation that could cause blinking, squinting, or winking in dogs.

Should I wink back at my dog?

Many people wink back when they notice their dogs winking at them, it just seems natural. If anything, it shows your dog that you are also friendly and non-aggressive.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve seen a dog wink, you’ve probably found yourself wondering why they do it. A lot of dogs wink, so it naturally sparks your curiosity. You want to know if it’s a good or bad sign, or if something could be wrong with your dog.

The good news is that in most cases a dog who winks is completely normal. A winking dog is a sign of a friendly dog who is at ease around you. You can even train your dog to wink on command!

But if your dog’s winking is excessive or accompanied by other symptoms, it’s best to consult a vet to make sure your dog isn’t suffering from an undiagnosed eye problem that could result in permanent eye damage.

For other great articles on what a dog’s body language means read our other guides:


Krystine Therriault

Krystine Therriault is an accomplished writer. With a passion for all creatures cute and furry, Krystine's life has been touched by many beloved dogs over the years. She is also a loving mother of two boys and an avid yogi.

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