Why does my dog stare at me?

If your dog stares at you all the time, sometimes for what seems like hours, often without blinking, you might wonder if they are looking at you with love and affection, or whether they are just trying to get your attention to communicate that they want something. Some owners might find it cute, while others find it a little creepy, but the looks your dog gives you definitely have meaning.

Why does my dog stare at me?

There may be a number of different reasons why your dog stares at you, but it’s usually because they want to know something or are trying to tell you something. Understanding what that special 'something' could be is the key to knowing why your dog is staring at you, but it’s most likely for one of the following reasons:
  • They want to know what you’re doing or what you’re going to do next
  • They’re confused about what you’re up to or what you want from them
  • They want something from you, such as food, affection, to go for a walk or to go to the toilet
  • They love you!

Your dog is reading you like a book

Dogs are very good at understanding us. Your dog watches your body language and looks at your facial expressions to help them recognise what you’re thinking and feeling. They rely on you for everything i.e. food, water, cuddles, exercise and even when and where to go to the toilet etc. Understanding your behaviour helps them work out what’s going on and what’s going to happen next. Dogs are excellent at remembering our daily habits, but will often stare at us to try to piece together our actions, so if you go to the front door, are you going to collect the post, leave the house or take them for a walk?

As well as watching you carefully, they most likely use their other senses to gain extra information. They listen to the tone of your voice and they may even use their incredible sense of smell and taste to work out how you’re feeling by licking your face and hands.

They’re confused

Your dog may often appear to be a fantastic mind reader, but since they don’t speak our language it must be very difficult for them to always understand what’s going on. Sometimes your dog may be staring at you because they simply don’t have a clue what’s happening or what they’re expected to do. By looking at you closely it helps them collect information to understand more about their situation. If you’ve asked your dog to do something and they just stare at you, it might not be that they’re being stubborn, but they may just need another hint from you to help them know what to do.

Your dog is trying to tell you something

If your dog stares at you then they may be trying to get your attention or 'tell' you something that’s important to them, but what is the question!? Dogs have very expressive eyes that are great at persuading you to help them. How can you possibly resist them? You may not realise it, but your dog has learnt that if they look at you in a certain way then you’re more likely to give them what they want. That could be a treat, a stroke, a cuddle, a toy, or they get taken out for a walk or to use the toilet. Although being stared at may make you feel uncomfortable, it is a much better behaviour than barking, chewing or biting for attention. If you’re often baffled by what your dog wants, you could help by training them to do specific activities when they want specific things, like fetching their leash if they want a walk, or going to their bowl if they want food. However, if they continue to seek your attention, it could suggest that their needs aren't being met. In these situations you could try speaking to a behaviourist or a KCAI instructor to help you get the right balance.

They love you!

Dogs sometimes use eye contact to let you know how they feel, and a lot of the time it’s to say that they love you. A dog’s loving gaze has been found to release a 'feel-good hormone' known as oxytocin in both you and your dog. This hormone helps you both feel happy and relaxed and helps you develop and maintain that close emotional bond that makes your relationship so special. So when you look at your dog lovingly and they look back into your eyes, it’s likely that they’re letting you know that the feeling is mutual. Dogs tend to use this look when they are feeling relaxed, so it’s important to never force your dog to stare you in the eye, as it’s unlikely that they’ll interpret this in a positive way.

They want food

If, like many other dogs, yours is obsessed with food, then they may be staring at you because they want a piece of whatever food you’re eating. Giving your dog some of your food when they show you their 'sad eyes' face is a difficult habit to break, but if you find this irresistible, you could train your dog to settle close to you while you eat, and maybe chew on a bone or play with a food puzzle, or keep them in a separate room while you eat.

They’d like some more attention

Sometimes, despite being showered with affection all day, your dog may still want some attention from you. They may not want anything in particular, but a quick stroke or belly rub may go a long way to making them feel reassured and loved. If this becomes a regular issue, then your dog may be bored or not getting enough exercise. You could try finding ways to keep them stimulated, or try giving them more exercise. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation and an interactive game can tire your dog more than a boring walk around the block.

They want your protection when pooing

If your dog stares at you while they're going to the toilet it could be because they feel vulnerable and are looking to you for reassurance and protection. While they are pooing, dogs are relatively defenceless and not in a position to fight or run away from any threats. If your dog stares at you while they poo, take it as a compliment that they are looking to you as their trusted protector to keep an eye out for danger. It’s useful to calmly talk to them to show them all is okay. Also, you could add a cue word, such as “toilet” so the dog can come to associate this with a safe place to 'go'.

Direction during training

If you’re training your dog and they are staring at you, it may be that they’re waiting for their next clue as to what to do. A well-trained dog is eager to be told what their next activity should be and staring is their way of asking what they’re supposed to be doing. If your dog is watching you closely then it means that they're focused on you rather than what’s around them. This is a sign of a strong bond between you. Training your dog to watch you can have a positive effect on your relationship and is a very useful skill to help with your dog’s attention in training or when you are in a difficult situation. Dogs that are attentive may be easier to train, so why not put it to good use. This could be especially useful if you are thinking of taking part in any canine activities, such as rally, agility or obedience.

Cognitive dysfunction

Sometimes, particularly in older dogs, a dog that is regularly staring at their owner, or is staring into space, could be a sign of a form of dementia. If they seem confused, keep having accidents inside the house, are showing signs of memory loss or have changes in their behaviour, activity or feeding and sleeping patterns, then you should speak to your vet for advice.

Aggressiveness

As well as expressing love, a dog’s stare can sometimes indicate that they are not happy. It’s unlikely that your dog will give you this sort of assertive stare, but it may be reserved for other dogs that they feel threatened by. It’s usually accompanied by a stiff upright body and a stillness. If a dog gives you an aggressive look that you feel threatened by, it’s important that you do not stare back at them and that you give them plenty of space and keep your distance. If your dog exhibits this sort of behaviour towards you, or has displayed this behaviour towards other dogs, then you should consider talking to a behaviourist.

Should I be worried that my dog stares at me?

Most of the time a dog’s stare has meaning, but understanding that meaning can sometimes be challenging. Often this stare is nothing to be concerned about and is perfectly normal behaviour for a dog that’s trying to communicate with you. However, you know your dog best, so if you have any concerns about your dog or their behaviour then always ensure your speak to your local vet or dog behaviourist, such as a KCAI instructor.

Find out more

Find answers to some of the other most commonly asked questions on our 'why does my dog?' hub, such as:
  • Why does my dog eat grass?
  • Why does my dog eat poop?
  • Why does my dog shake?
  • Why does my dog follow me everywhere?
  • Why does my dog lick me so much?
  • Why does my dog lick my feet?
  • Why does my dog sneeze so much?
  • Why does my dog smell of fish?

Think your dog may be affected?

If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!

We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information

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