Why Does My Dog Stare at Me? Here Are the Reasons Behind All That Eye Contact
Do you feel like you're being...watched? We get to the bottom of why your dog's gaze may linger on you so much of the time.
If you have a dog, you probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out dog behavior and looking up the answers to questions like “Why does my dog follow me?” (if you’re on your way to the kitchen it’s pretty obvious!) or “Why does my dog stare at me?” Like us, dogs are complex creatures, and it can be hard to know what your dog’s facial expressions really mean.
When you’re asking them to sit or giving them a treat, eye contact means that their attention is on you and that they’re ready to (hopefully) listen. But sometimes your pup will look at you without being prompted, or give you the doggy side-eye when you’re not even doing anything interesting, just watching TV. Unless you’re doing one of these things that your dog actually hates, there are a few reasons why your dog might stare at you—even when you don’t call his name or do something to get his attention.
Why does my dog stare at me?
In general, dogs use eye contact to gain information and understand what their human wants them to do, says Philip Tedeschi, professor and researcher on the human-animal bond with Rover. “Dogs use eye contact as reassurance and understanding in very similar ways that humans do, to ascertain interpersonal connection and reaction. This helps us connect with them as well,” he says.
In especially good news for pooch parents, science confirms that dogs use eye contact to express affection. How do you tell if a dog loves you? Well, if he stares at you, it’s a good sign! “Just like humans gaze into each other’s eyes to show love and affection, so does your dog,” says Tedeschi. “In fact, one study showed that the ‘cuddle’ hormone oxytocin increases in both humans and dogs when they exchange a loving gaze.”
However, Tedeschi points out that if the eye contact between a dog and a human is too long or too intense it might lead to discomfort in the dog—similar to the way two humans staring at each other for a prolonged period of time would make them uncomfortable. So what do you do if your dog stares at you? Look back, but not for too long. Dogs get awkward, too!
Do dogs use eye contact to try to communicate with humans?
Eye contact is actually not a natural instinct for dogs, but over time they learn that eye contact can often lead to attention or food from their humans. So, if you see your dog looking to the side, or notice he’s staring at you in a classic, cute, looking-up puppy eyes kind of way, it probably means he wants something.
“Dogs will often stare when you’re doing something that piques their curiosity—like grilling up something that smells tasty or opening the cupboard where the treats are—to see if they can get in on the fun too,” says Tedeschi. So, next time you catch your hound staring, try giving him a cuddle. If you’re curious, here’s why dogs sometimes tilt their heads when looking at you.
Why does my dog stare at other dogs?
If your dog sees another dog while you’re out for a walk, he might look at the other dog briefly to catch the dog’s attention, but when two dogs stare at each other it’s actually a sign of hostility.
“You’ll more frequently see dogs turning away from each other in order to avoid eye contact as sustained staring can be a sign of aggression,” says Tedeschi. “Prolonged eye contact rarely occurs in friendly exchanges between two dogs.” When two dogs meet for the first time, always approach with caution and never just let your dog run up to an unknown dog. You don’t know how other canines will react. That’s just one of the mistakes dog owners should never make.
Why does my dog stare at me when he goes to the bathroom?
“When dogs are defecating, they feel like they are vulnerable, so he’s looking to you to protect him and for safety cues as he goes,” says Tedeschi. Most dogs also learn that if they go to the bathroom outside when and where they’re supposed to, they will be rewarded with a treat, so they stare at you to make sure you know that they are doing their business. Yes, it’s a bit awkward, but you can reassure your dog by saying something soothing instead.
So now you know: your dog stares at you because he wants to express affection, make sure he’s safe, or check on his chances of getting food or snuggles. Think you’re a dog expert? Test yourself to see how much you know in our definitive guide to what dogs want.
- Philip Tedeschi, Professor and researcher on the human-animal bond with Rover.com