Every dog owner is familiar with a sense of being watched. Dogs spend a lot of time staring at their owners, even if the owners find the constant attention a bit disconcerting.
Sometimes it’s obvious why your dog is looking intently at you. When you’re about to take a bite of some delicious-smelling food, your dog is probably staring. On the other hand, they might be staring to tell you that they’re not feeling well and need help. Other times, they seem to be staring at you for no reason at all.
Even if you don’t understand what your dog is looking at, your dog has a good reason to be watching you.
Dogs Stare to Communicate
Many times, dogs use eye contact to tell you something or to ask you for something.
To understand. Dogs watch you to understand what you’re doing. Dogs and humans have a special relationship. Dogs are naturally inclined to become attached to their owners and they take an interest in what their humans do. Watching people is how they gather information about their actions.
Sometimes they’re looking for a signal that you might be about to take them for a walk or feed them a meal. If you’ve trained your dog to respond to hand or voice signals, they might be waiting for a signal to tell them what to do next. Other times, they’re just observing you so that they can know more about you.
They want something. Your dog might want something from you. Sometimes dogs use eye contact to ask their owners for something. Many dog owners are familiar with the intent stare a dog gives you to beg for food. Other times, your dog might look at you to get your attention because they want to go outside. Maybe they just hope you’ll pick up a toy and play with them.
Sometimes this kind of staring is combined with playful bowing or a suggestive look toward where you keep your leash. If you give your dog what they want when they stare at you to beg, you reinforce the behavior. They’ll keep using staring as a way to get what they want. You can talk to your vet or a dog trainer to get tips for curbing this form of begging if it’s a problem for you.
Something is wrong. In some cases, your dog might be staring at you in a pleading way. If they’re hurt or sick, they might be staring in the hope that you’ll notice their discomfort. If your dog is less active than usual and their stare seems glassy-eyed or unfocused, check for signs of injury or illness. Any time your dog seems to be hurt or sick, you should discuss the situation with your vet.
Aggression. Hard eye contact is a sign of aggression in dogs. Dogs lock eyes with one another to establish dominance or to show aggression. If a dog gives a person a hard, steady stare without blinking, the dog might be warning the human to back off.
Your dog might be more likely to do this to a stranger, especially if your dog thinks they need to protect you. If your dog is aggressively staring at you or a family member, that might point to a bigger behavioral problem. Aggressive or territorial dogs might be a danger to people. Talk to your vet or an animal behaviorist about how to correct the issue.
Affection. Your dog might simply be looking at you with love. Dogs love their owners and they gaze at them with the doggy equivalent of heart eyes. You might notice that your dog’s eyes seem slightly squinted when they look at you sometimes. This expression, along with a relaxed posture, is a sign that they’re giving you a look of love.
If you take a moment to stare back at your dog, it can be a bonding moment for both of you. Mutual staring between dogs and their owners releases oxytocin. This is a hormone that gives you a feeling of love and well-being.
You Can Learn to Understand Your Dog’s Stares
If you pay attention to what is going on when your dog locks eyes on you, you can get a sense of why they’re staring at you.
Paying attention to their body language will give you additional clues about why they’re following you with their eyes. Take note of what you’re doing in the moment to figure out what draws their attention.
Most of the time, if your dog is staring at you, it’s because they consider you important, and they just want to be part of whatever you do.