Among all the bizarre behaviors a dog is known to engage in, from scooting his butt on the floor, to chasing his tail, to licking his paws excessively, a dog that stares has got to be one of the most disconcerting of all for us humans.
How weird is it to notice your dog just sitting there… staring at you? You’re not doing anything special, just minding your own business. Maybe you’re doing things around the house, cleaning or cooking, folding laundry. But your dog won’t take his eyes off of you.
Obviously, it’s not out of the norm for your dog to follow you from room to room as you go around the house, but let’s be honest… the whole staring thing can get a little uncomfortable. In some cases, you might even get annoyed, because he won’t stop and you have zero idea what he wants. It’s clear he is trying to communicate something, but sometimes, figuring out what that something is can be a challenge. If you have ever asked yourself, “Why does my dog stare at me?”, this article is for you.
Why Do Dogs Stare?
Well, it’s probably not something they are doing out of love or devotion. In most cases, dogs stare for a reason. It’s a communication mechanism and he is trying to tell you something with his soulful doggy gaze. This means that in order for you to learn what your dog is trying to say when he stares at you, you’ve got to become fluent in your dog’s communication cues. Every dog is different and may stare for different reasons.
Your Dog is Hormonal
No, really. There are actually scientific reasons your dog may stare. Some studies have found there are increasing levels of hormones between a dog and his owner when they stare at each other, in particular, an increase in the hormones that are associated with bonding. Think of it as similar to the bonding connection that happens between a mother and baby as they stare into each other’s eyes.
It appears the same thing occurs with canines and humans. This hormonal response that is triggered between a man and a man’s best friend may help explain the unique relationship dogs often have with their humans. So that doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility that your dog is gazing at you with love and affection. If they are bonding with you, they could very well be feeling something like love.
Your Dog Wants Something
There are plenty of other reasons a dog might stare into your eyes though. For instance, some dogs may stare because they want something. What he wants is the mystery you are required to figure out. Sometimes it might mean he’s hungry or thirsty. Maybe it means he wants to go outside and play. Perhaps he has to go potty and wants to go for a walk. Still other times, a dog may be staring because he’s lost a toy and he is waiting for you to find it and give it back to him. Smart dog.
The bottom line is that with most staring behaviors, your dog wants something, and he is looking to you to provide it, whatever “it” may be. Your job is to discern any other clues that may accompany his staring behavior, so you can figure out exactly what it is he’s asking for.
As an example, if your dog has to go outside and go potty, he may stare at you as well as run back and forth to the door. Some dogs may scratch at the door and stare at you. If your dog wants food or water, he may sit near his bowls and stare. Sometimes the stare is coupled with a few high-pitched whining sounds.
In the case of a lost or out of reach toy, your dog might stare and run back and forth between you and the couch, like there is something under it he can’t reach. Or if you put treats up high, like in a cabinet or on top of the fridge, your dog might stare at you first, then run to the place the treat is hidden and stare there. This can be annoying, but effective once you realize what he’s asking for and then reward him with said treat!
Your Dog is Trained Well
Sometimes dogs stare simply because they have been well trained, and they are looking for cues from you on what they should do next. A dog’s world revolves around his humans. What you do dictates what he does. Dogs that have been well trained are often highly attentive and will just watch you, waiting and ready to respond to your next command.
Your Dog is Watching for Clues
In other cases, your dog may simply be looking for clues about your behavior. Dogs are smart creatures, but your dog’s life depends on yours. Your dog is an excellent reader of body language, which allows him to watch you and figure out what your next move will be. He notices when you’re getting ready to go to work, prepping to go for a walk outside, and may even watch you when he knows you are acting out of character, such as when you’re sick or upset. Essentially, your dog is watching you so he can figure out how your behavior should impact his.
Your Dog is Begging
Your dog might be staring because he is watching you eat. The problem with this is it may also be a form of silent begging. This behavior manifests when you start feeding your dog from the table while you are eating. By doing this, you teach him that he gets a “reward” when you are eating and so he stares at you and waits for it. Unfortunately, a dog begging for food can be an unattractive trait for most owners. To eliminate it, you will need to re-train your dog to go to his bed or lock him up in another room during meal times.
Your Dog’s Routine is Off
Your dog is a creature of habit, much like you, and your routine will dictate your dog’s routine. So, if your routine for him varies from the norm one day, he may stare at you as he tries to figure out why this break in routine is occurring. For instance, if your dog is fed every night around the same time, but you are late one night, he may stare at you wondering where his food is.
Dogs that are used to going on walks first thing every morning may stare at you when you oversleep and miss the alarm. If you have ever awoken to find your dog in your face, staring at you with his tongue lolling out, you know what this is like. He is waiting for you to do something that is part of his normal, everyday routine. That might be letting him outside, going for a walk, or feeding him first thing in the morning.
Your Dog is Being Aggressive
Another reason that dogs may stare, although it’s not as common, is as a sign of canine aggression. Dogs that stare at each other often do so as a form of aggression, and you may notice additional body language, like a stiffening stance, his hair standing on end, his ears back, and his teeth bared. In the same way, dogs that stare at you could be doing so as a way to threaten you.
This sometimes happens when you try to take away an item he wants, like a treat, a toy, or the food bowl. If you notice your dog staring at you and displaying other aggression warning signs, you should stop reaching for the item and wait until he loses interest of his own accord. Then offer him something else instead and put that item out of his reach. Also, a word of warning. If you ever find yourself staring at a dog you don’t know and he is staring at you, you should lower your gaze. The strange dog could interpret your gaze as aggression and go on the offense.
Your Dog is Uncomfy or Uncertain
Yet another reason a dog may stare is because he’s confused or uncomfortable. If you’ve ever made your dog wear a cone to discourage licking, made him wear a muzzle to curb barking, or ever put your dog in a cute holiday outfit, you have probably experienced the stare of discomfort. Dogs don’t like wearing things that hinder their freedom of movement. It can be especially confusing and uncomfortable if it’s the first time he’s ever worn such a thing. He might stare at you wondering what the heck you have put on him and continue to stare until you remove the offending object.
Your Dog Feels Guilty
Another reason a dog may stare is because he is feeling guilt or shame over a behavior he knows is frowned upon by you. Maybe he got into the garbage, or maybe he snuck something into his kennel he knows he shouldn’t be chewing on, or perhaps he has climbed into your bed when he knows he’s not supposed to. Whatever the situation or case may be, your dog has been caught in the act and he may be staring at you out of guilt and apology. Or he could be staring at you in a mischievous way, even though he knows what he is doing is against the rules.
Stopping Your Dog from Staring
Some staring is actually good staring. If your dog appears to be staring at you as a bonding thing, because he loves you and is devoted to you, then simply give your dog the affection he craves and enjoy it.
If you know your dog is staring because of something else, like he wants something he is missing from his normal routine, the best way to stop the behavior is to give him what he is missing. Maybe he wants to go outside, maybe he wants food in his bowl, or maybe he wants that skipped morning walk. Whatever it is, your dog is staring at you because he senses a problem, so to get him to stop staring you will need to address the problem.
Dogs that silently stare at you while you’re eating can drive some owners a little crazy. The best way to curb behaviors like this is to retrain your dog to do something else during mealtimes. It might mean you need to send him to his bed or lock him up in another room. Some owners like their dog to be in the same room as they are, just not staring at them from under the table. In this case, you can use a leash to keep your dog tied where you want him to stay until mealtime is over.
If you don’t want to tie or lock your dog up, try giving him something else to occupy himself with during the meal, like a bone to chew or a new toy to play with. You can also try feeding him at the same time everyone else eats. Use food puzzles to keep him engaged and intrigued with his food so that it takes him longer to eat it.
For dogs that stare as an act of aggression, whether it’s directed at you or another dog, never stare back or you might trigger him to attack. If your dog is staring down another dog, the safest bet is to distract him and remove him from the situation to avoid conflict.
Figuring out why your dog is staring at you can be a bit like unlocking some secret language. Once you know it, your bond with your dog will be even stronger because you will understand what it is he’s trying to communicate to you. Who knew dogs could talk?
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“Why Is My Dog Staring at Me?” The Honest Kitchen Blog, 12 Oct. 2018, www.thehonestkitchen.com/blog/why-is-my-dog-staring-at-me/.
“Why Is My Dog Staring At Me?” Modern Dog Magazine, www.moderndogmagazine.com/articles/why-my-dog-staring-me/89272.