Q & A — Direct Eye Contact
One of my fur kids will not look me straight on in the face. It is always rather a sideways glance. He is a rescue dog and I wonder if it is a fear or maybe it is more normal than I realize.
It’s normal for humans to perceive this behavior as fearful, but it usually isn’t. Dogs don’t tend to make prolonged, direct eye contact with one another unless they are trying to assert their dominance over another pack member. The pack alpha will typically stare down underlings, forcing them to look away / avert their eyes in a show of submissiveness. It’s normal.
If an underling doesn’t avert their gaze from the pack alpha (or the more dominant dog in cases where you have a larger pack, dogs don’t really have a sense of equal rank, they are always either dominant over another member or submissive; in a larger pack, they will know exactly who they are submissive toward and who they are dominant toward)—prolonged eye contact will result in a fight to establish who is / remains dominant and who submits.
Barring other signs of distress, like shaking, cowering, whimpering, etc., it sounds like your rescue is just trying to display that he is a respectful, submissive dog who acknowledges your authority. I wouldn’t force prolonged eye contact with the dog, there’s no need. It’s a very human desire for eye contact, but dogs aren’t human.