Why Does My Dog Stare at Me?
You may have noticed that your dog frequently stares at you several times throughout the day. If you are unsure why your pet does that, know that it is entirely normal behavior. Interestingly enough, there are quite a few reasons behind your furry friend’s intense looks, and some of them might even surprise you. There can be several types of looks, and each one can communicate something different. So, why does your dog stare at you?
In most cases, your pet looks deeply into your eyes to communicate, which is something dogs have in common with humans. People use direct eye-to-eye contact to communicate certain things to each other, like emotions, but since dogs cannot speak, they rely more heavily on eye contact than we do.
One of the reasons pets stare at their owners is to show affection, but they also do it to request it. Dogs tend to try to get attention from their owners to feel engaged by them. Like every other relationship, you need to make sure to spend some quality time with your pet because if you don’t, they will let you know. Thankfully, some nice petting or some quick playing will usually be enough for them to feel satisfied for some time.
Moreover, a study has shown that mutual gazing between an owner and their pet raises oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a feel-good hormone (also known as the “love hormone”) connected to social bonding, specifically to the bond between new mothers and their babies.
This specific hormone also facilitates bonding between humans and domesticated dogs. The same study found that the inhalation of oxytocin by dogs is said to have increased their gazing behavior. Therefore, it is indeed true that having eye-to-eye contact with your dog strengthens your attachment to one another.
Due to their attachment, dogs are observant of their owners’ actions. Since so much of their daily routine relies on the owners, dogs try to carefully notice clues about people’s behavior to “decipher” what will happen next. They notice our movements, facial expressions, and tone of voice, among other things, to understand our intentions and our state of being.
This is why dogs tend to follow their owners around the house. If they see you wearing a jacket or shoes or grabbing a leash, they know it is time for a walk. If you open the cupboard with the dog treats or toys, they know it is time for a treat. If you grab the nail clipper, the dog might try to hide out of dislike for the process of nail clipping. If you abruptly stand up and start looking out of the window, the dog might sense that something might be wrong, so it will be on alert.
It is also very common for puppies to be highly observant of people’s behavior, especially if they go through different types of training, as they will be waiting for new commands.
Puppies are observant during a training period, but their look might also indicate something different other than the anticipation of commands. Sometimes they might be confused by your behavior. If you try to give your puppy some recently learned instructions and they just stare at you, you might have to repeat some parts of the training until they fully understand them.
A dog’s confused look is easily recognizable. They usually express it by the slight tilting of their head, pointy ears, and unaware eyes. It is quite a funny look that every pet owner is amused by, so you will know when you see it.
Furthermore, dogs are genuinely interested in our behavior because of their attachment to humans. For that reason, sometimes dogs stare at us because they are simply curious. If dogs see an action they do not understand, they will continue observing until they get more clues on what is going on. For example, if someone gets suddenly loud for some reason, the dog might be confused about what generated such a reaction.
The most common reason your dog might be staring at you is that they want something, and they are trying to get your attention so you can provide it to them. If dogs are hungry or want a treat, a toy, or let outside, they will stare at you until you make their wishes a reality. This is a learned behavior as dogs understand from a very young age that the most successful way to communicate their needs is through staring, which makes up for their lack of oral communication.
Of course, you need to monitor this habit as it can lead to a very negative behavioral pattern, which is that of begging. Begging is a dog continuously staring to get what it asks for. It is common in situations where a dog keeps staring at its owner until they break and finally do exactly as their pet pleases. By rewarding the dog’s behavior, you send them a specific signal that confirms that this type of method will always lead to a satisfactory result.
Examples of this behavior are the dog hovering around the table during dinner time, begging for human food, or constantly requesting treats. While it is indeed often difficult to refuse a dog, when you are presented with their “puppy eyes,” it is advised that you do not reward them frequently to prevent problematic behavior from becoming constant.
There are certain circumstances in which dogs don’t always stare at humans for a positive reason. Sometimes, dogs stare at people because they might perceive them as a threat. This mainly occurs with people with whom they are unfamiliar, as it is not as common for dogs to express aggression towards their family members. If that happens, your dog might be aggressive. It is very important to get professional training to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you.
An aggressive stare is also expressed through other different signs of body language, which makes it easier to recognize. A dog that feels stressed or fearful by your presence will show aggression by standing very still, not blinking, and even showing its teeth. A stiff body posture indicates that you are not perceived as welcome in a particular space, which usually happens with territorial dogs.
In the case someone realizes that a dog is looking aggressively towards them, they should immediately break eye contact as maintaining it will possibly escalate the situation. If the dog continues to feel threatened, it could lead to a dog bite, which usually occurs out of self-defense. Of course, this is a worst-case scenario as most dogs that have received the appropriate training from an early age won’t result in these types of outbursts.
Sometimes, when your dog stares at you, they might try to communicate that there is something wrong with them. This behavior might appear similar to that of begging at first. Still, if the dog does not need something obvious, it might try to communicate its physical discomfort to you. If a dog is pleading, the owner must look for any signs of injury. If you cannot determine the cause of their discomfort, you must immediately seek medical advice from your vet.
Look out for signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction in older dogs. It is dementia for dogs, and it starts slowly appearing mainly in elderly dogs. Dogs with CCD usually have a blank stare and tend to look disoriented. These and other signs show that your dog might have a cognitive issue, so you should visit your vet as soon as possible to learn how to manage your pet’s illness.
While there are many reasons why your dog is looking at you, most of them are related to your pet trying to communicate with you. Staring is the main form of communication for your four-legged friend, so as a dog parent, you should be able to recognize what they need. Make sure you do not fall for their bad behavior but also watch out for any signs that might indicate your dog is suffering from any illness or injury.
Finally, do not forget that direct eye-to-eye contact is something that dogs use to bond with their owners, so try to reciprocate it as much as you can and try to tend to your relationship with your animal. When your dog looks deep into your eyes, they show their love for you, so appreciating it accordingly only strengthens your unique bond.