You’re relaxing one day in the living room watching TV, everything seems peaceful, but you get this feeling that you’re being watched. You look around and don’t see anyone—that is, anyone with only two feet. For some reason, your dog is staring, and it’s starting to freak you out a bit.
Does he want a treat, a walk, or to go potty? To answer the question, “Why does my dog stare at me,” let’s take a deep dive into your dog’s personality and how they communicate.
Understanding Dog Stares
Dogs communicate in many different ways. They wag their tails when excited. They bark to call out to other dogs. Staring is another way they communicate, and here are several reasons they do that.
They Need to Tell You Something
If a dog’s stare is burning a hole through you, it could be they have important info, and it’s not always about what they want. Dogs will stare at their owners to get their attention because they want to tell them something.
They may have detected some other kind of threat or danger. Think Lassie—Timmy might have fallen down that well again. Observe if your dog gives you any other signs like barking, running back and forth, or scratching at a door. We’ve heard many stories of people being saved from danger because of a dog’s staring and persistence.
They Need to Understand Something
Sometimes when you are talking to them, someone else, or just out loud, your pup may stare at you to understand what you are saying or why you feel the way you feel. Dogs are incredibly empathetic. While they may not understand most of the human language, they pick up on inflections and body language like pros.
They Want Something
One of the most obvious reasons dogs stare at people is because they want them to do something. Depending on the dog and its personality, this may be accompanied by pacing, barking, or whining. However, some dogs just sit as still as a stone giving you those puppy eyes, while others just keep staring until their human figures out what they want.
They Have a Health Issue
When your pet dog continues staring for a long time, it could signal that they are not feeling well. If their staring seems unfocused or if they are glassy-eyed, this could indicate a health issue. Other signs can include listlessness, fatigue, crying and whimpering, eating grass, and other strange behaviors, which could be their way of telling you something’s not quite right with them.
They’re Showing Affection
When dogs stare at their humans, it’s often a sign of affection. A study published in Hormones and Behavior in 2009 found that sustained eye contact between a dog and its owner caused an increase in oxytocin levels in both. Researchers found that mutual eye contact between dogs and their humans generated physiological profiles similar to that of a mother and her infant. They concluded that it was “a manifestation of attachment behavior.” So if your dog stares back at you, they might just be telling you they love you.
How Dog Staring Can Benefit Your Dog
While most of the staring from dogs is out of affection or need, this behavior can also provide several benefits to your pet. In all likelihood, your pet finds you fascinating, and when teaching a pupil, you absolutely want them to pay close attention to everything you do and say.
Matching Words to Body Language
The first thing you need to establish is clear communication. Your words, tone, and body language must align to deliver a consistent message. For example, telling your dog to sit while you’re jumping up and down isn’t a great way to help them associate the desired action with your command, especially when training an energetic puppy.
When dogs are focused, they are a lot easier to train. By teaching your dog how to focus their focus on you when you cue them with phrases such as “watch me” or “look at me,” you can grab their undivided command, making your instructions much more impactful.
You can also use a dog’s staring to give your team a much-needed performance boost during contests or sports. There are sports like Agility or AKC rallies that focus on teamwork. The more in tune a dog is with its handler’s cues and body position, the better the team will perform. There are also sports such as AKC Trick Dog and Obedience, where dogs must learn specific behaviors before executing them, without allowing distractions to ruin their performance. Dogs who maintain eye contact are much easier to train.
Dogs Stare: Other Meanings
When dogs maintain eye contact, it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes, staring can indicate danger, such as in the case of a dog attack. Despite what some people say, dogs always give signals they are about to become aggressive.
Dogs who are being aggressive will often make unblinking eye contact with whoever they are challenging or if they feel challenged.
For a dog, eye contact along with a stiff tail and rigid wide stance are a few other indicators that show they may be about to attack. This can be accompanied by growling, snarling, teeth-baring, and ears pinned back. Often, this happens when complete strangers are confronting dogs, but even family members and those the pet is familiar with can become the focus of aggression.
Staring is one way dogs communicate with humans and other animals. In most cases, dogs stare at their owners to get their attention if they want to convey something—whether they want a treat, a walk, or attention. However, a persistent stare can also indicate that a dog is being watchful or feeling threatened or alarmed. In this case, watch out for signs that a dog will become aggressive.