Dog Behavior Explained: Why Does My Dog Stare at Me?
You toss some laundry in the washing machine, grab a drink from the refrigerator, curl up in your favorite chair to do some reading … and all the while, your dog is staring at you intently. Our canine friends seem to have a unique penchant not only for following us around like furry little shadows, but for staring straight into our eyes while they’re doing it.
We can’t blame you if you’ve ever stopped and wondered to yourself: “Why is my dog staring at me?”
Dogs stare for a number of reasons, and the exact reason might not always be clear. But is there any way for you to get a clue as to why your dog might be staring? And is it ever a cause for concern?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the science behind your dog’s eye contact behavior, and at some of the most common reasons that dogs stare at their human parents.
The Science of Eye Contact
You might like to think that your dog is staring at you for one simple reason: Because he or she adores you. Staring is sometimes related to affection — and it’s backed up by science.
We’ve known for a long time that making direct eye contact is a powerful mode of communication among humans. Whether it’s between two romantic partners, a mother and her infant, or just between two friends, mutual eye contact works to strengthen those bonds. In infants, it’s crucial for developing social skills that form the basis of behavior. The action actually releases a particular hormone, oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone.”
It turns out that a similar thing happens with our four-legged friends. Japanese research has demonstrated that when a dog and their human counterpart stare into each other’s eyes, those same hormonal bonding responses happen. In fact, oxytocin is released in dogs as well.
All of this means that just as eye contact helps humans to bond with one another, staring also helps our dogs bond with us. The neurochemical systems and relationships are the same.
So, a hormonal response occurs when your dog stares into your eyes, just as it does when you make direct eye contact with a human you care about. But why do dogs stare in the first place?
Why Your Dog Stares
There are numerous reasons that your dog might stare at you. Dog behaviorists generally lump staring behavior into a few main categories: Seeking attention or direction, desiring something, or experiencing confusion.
Your Dog Wants Attention
Many times, your dog is staring at you because they want attention — your pup just wants you to notice them. As we’ve already seen, our dogs have a neurochemical reaction when they look at us, in the same way that we experience affection when looking at a loved one.
Sometimes, that relationship needs nurturing. So, your dog might just be looking for a little love. Try petting him or her or engaging in a quick play session. Your pooch will thank you.
Your Dog Wants Direction
Sometimes, your dog wants you to tell them what to do, and they’ll stare at you looking for that direction. This is especially likely if your pet is in the midst of a dog training regimen.
If you’ve been giving them commands frequently, they’ll probably look at you in anticipation of the next one. It’s your pup’s way of asking what they’re supposed to do next.
Your Dog Has a Desire
One of the most common reasons that dogs stare is because they want something. This goes beyond simply wanting attention.
Your pup wants something specific — to go potty to be fed their dinner, or to go play fetch in the yard. Or, they might be staring at you hoping for a morsel of whatever it is that you’re eating at the moment.
Your Dog Is Confused
Another reason that your dog might stare at you is because they’re confused as to what you want from them.
Your dog might think they’re about to miss something, or they’re looking for a clue from you about what’s going on. And sometimes, our dogs are simply curious about what we’re doing.
It’s important to note that there is another reason that a dog might stare, and it’s not as innocent as the ones described above: aggression.
It’s unlikely that your own dog will stare at you aggressively, because they know and love you. But if an unfamiliar dog that you encounter gives you a hard stare, you’ll want to use caution. If the dog perceives you as a potential threat, the stare might be their way of saying “back off.”
Pay attention to the rest of the dog’s body language — if the body is stiff and the teeth are bared, you’ll want to break eye contact and move away from the dog as quickly as possible.
When to Be Concerned
So, your dog might stare at you to express a desire for attention or the fact that they need a potty break, or they might just want a bite of whatever you’re eating. In some cases, a dog might stare in an aggressive manner. But is there ever a reason to be concerned that your dog’s staring means something is wrong with their health?
Long periods of staring, especially if your dog seems to be staring off into space or gazing blankly at a random spot, could be a sign of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, or CCD. It’s the canine version of Alzheimer’s disease and usually occurs in senior dogs.
Other symptoms usually accompany CCD alongside the blank staring behavior. A dog suffering from the condition might:
- Fail to respond to their name or commands
- Get lost in familiar areas, like the home
- Wander aimlessly around the house
- Tremble frequently
If you see these symptoms in your older dog, don’t assume it’s just part of getting older. It’s time to take your dog to the vet’s office for an exam. CCD isn’t curable, but your veterinarian will be able to help you and your dog cope with the condition moving forward.
Why Does My Dog Stare at Me All the Time? Should I Be Worried?
The vast majority of the time, your dog stares at you for the exact reasons you would expect: They want a tasty morsel, they want to go outside to play or to use the bathroom, or they’re just curious about what you’re doing.
There are only a few reasons to be worried about a dog’s stare. Sometimes, dogs stare to indicate aggression. Much less frequently, senior dogs stare off as a symptom of cognitive dysfunction.
As the person who is most in tune with your canine companion, you can probably make a good guess as to what your dog wants when he or she is staring at you. So, you can decide whether or not to oblige them. You know your dog best, after all.