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Why Is My Dog Staring at Me? Here’s What Experts Say It Means

Why is my dog staring at me?
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / PicsbyFran

Why is my dog staring at me? Read on to find out what experts say about what it means when you're being captured by the intense gaze of those big puppy dog eyes.

Sixty-nine million American households report owning a dog, and most owners have pondered the question, “why is my dog staring at me?” Our four-legged friends have a tendency to become transfixed, locked in eye contact with us at regular intervals.

Recent research suggests that the reasons dogs might be staring at humans are influenced by the dogs’ socialization and life experiences. That means there are several reasons our dogs stare at us, and most of them are positive. Find out what the experts say, and you might understand what your dog is trying to communicate to you the next time it happens.

Is It Bad That My Dog Is Staring At Me?

Aggressive stares are usually accompanied by other actions.
Aggressive stares are usually accompanied by other actions.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / simonocampo999)

Generally, your dog staring at you is not a threatening or negative sign. In fact, researchers that compared the communication skills of socialized wolves against socialized dogs concluded that the ability and willingness of dogs to look at the human face — something the wolves did not engage in — has led to the evolution of our remarkable interactions with dogs.

For humans, eye contact and gaze-following have been shown to be an essential part of our interactions, socialization, and portrayal of intimacy. It looks as though dogs staring at us has a similar function and role. Most of the time, your dog is just trying to tell you something.

On rare occasions, your dog might stare at you aggressively. This usually occurs if the dog feels threatened or is protecting something — like food. Aggressive staring is usually accompanied by other warning signs — like fur rising on the back, teeth bearing, or growling. So, if you’re wondering why your dog is staring at you, and you hear a growl or see a tooth alongside the eyes, you should discuss the behavior with your vet or a dog behavioral expert.

Staring Is Caring

Staring is a way of bonding and showing love.
Staring is a way of bonding and showing love.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / doanme)

The general consensus is that your dog is usually staring at you to express their love. Japanese researchers found that dogs staring at their owners had elevated levels of the love hormone oxytocin. This neuropeptide plays an essential role in childbirth, breastfeeding, and sexual functions and has recently been studied for its role in maternal and human bonding and feelings of love and attachment. This study also showed that the owner’s oxytocin level rose too — if they reciprocated the stare.

This mutual surge in oxytocin has actually been found in a variety of human-dog interaction studies, and the benefits we get from our canine counterparts don’t end there. According to Harvard University, dog owners have lower blood pressure, better cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of heart disease than non-owners. So, the next time your dog is staring at you, stare back and smile to return the love, attachment, and health benefits.

Toileting & Treats

Why is my dog staring at me while pooping?
Why is my dog staring at me while pooping?
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Khaligo)

Many people find it a little weird and uncomfortable when their dog refuses to break eye contact during toileting. Rest assured, this is fairly normal behavior, and there is a reason your four-legged friend might be creeping you out. When dogs are defecating, they are in a vulnerable position. They feel exposed, and might look to you, as a fellow pack member, for protection and a sense of security. Alternatively, your dog may not feel vulnerable at all, but instead, think they deserve a reward for going in the right spot.

The stare is also often a sign of begging for a treat (or something else) and we have all fallen victim to those puppy dog eyes. Dogs have long mastered the art of manipulation: we don’t need to ask ourselves why our dogs are staring at us when we are biting into something tasty at the dinner table, or when a walk is long overdue. This form of unbreakable gaze is usually no mystery, and it also tends to get what it wants.

Research has shown that dogs are more likely to select and beg for food from humans who are looking at them than those who are not. They are also more hesitant when approaching a blindfolded human and appear to beg more from those that engage in eye contact. So, if you want a peaceful meal or a guilt-free nap on the sofa, look away from the irresistible eyes!

Talking Without Words

Dogs have remarkable communication skills.
Dogs have remarkable communication skills.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Vizslafotozas)

Dogs and humans have developed a remarkable bond and relationship, considering dogs can’t talk. Communication occurs through body language and other non-verbal cues, and the gaze seems to be hugely important. Dogs exhibit increased attention-gaining behaviors in response to a human stare and use their eyes to do more than beg. If your dog is staring at you, some form of communication is taking place.

Dogs actually appear to be able to distinguish between human emotions and often change their behavior accordingly. Gauging our facial expressions seems to be a core part of this process, so your dog might be staring at you in an attempt to sus out your mood and emotional state rather than trying to tell you something. Remember that communication is a two-way process, and your dog knows this. 

Dogs are curious and will look, quite literally, to you for guidance in many things. Your reciprocated stare can act as reassurance or as a cue that your dog is waiting to follow. Just remember that your dog is staring at you for a reason. Like people, dogs are complex creatures, so the next time you’re wondering why your dog is staring at you, look at the whole situation, your own mood included, and you might gain a better understanding.

If your dog is staring randomly and unusually — particularly in older dogs — it might be a sign of canine cognitive dysfunction. Pointless staring (at you or at anything) may be a symptom of this age-related disorder. We strongly encourage a visit to the vet if your dog is randomly staring and getting old.

Looking for more pet advice? Check out these articles about how to be a responsible and sustainable pet parent:

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