Image via iStock.com/Olena Kurashova
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
As you go about your daily activities, you might notice your dog quietly staring at you. Your first instinct might be to feel self-conscious; is my hair hopelessly disheveled? Is there something stuck in my teeth?
But, rather than assuming the worst when the question, “Why does my dog stare at me?” runs through your head, rest assured that your dog’s stare is not a judgment of your personal appearance.
Dogs have developed a close, domesticated relationship with humans over thousands of years. This relationship has allowed dogs to become adept at observing and responding to human behavior.
In many instances, a stare is normal dog behavior that is used to communicate some type of emotion, want or need. If you catch your dog staring at you, it’s likely for one of the following reasons.
Anticipation or Desire
When you eat, is your dog staring up at you expectantly? If so, he’s just waiting for a morsel to drop to the floor or for you to simply place a morsel in his mouth.
Unfortunately, this dog behavior is often learned; if you give your dog a treat or other food when you eat, he’ll learn to anticipate that same reward anytime you eat.
Other than mealtime, your dog may stare at you because he wants to play or because the toy he’s playing with has gotten stuck under something, and he needs you to fish it out for him.
If your dog needs to relieve himself, he’ll be staring at you to communicate his need to go outside.
When your dog is well-trained, he will stare at you to wait for a cue. For example, if you’re going for a walk and approach a crosswalk, your dog may stare up at you to determine if he should sit or continue walking.
Your dog wants to please you, so his stare will serve as a question as to what he should do next to make you happy.
A dog’s unconditional love is often irresistible. When a dog and pet parent have developed a close and emotional bond, the dog will sometimes use his stare to demonstrate affection.
With an affectionate stare, a dog will have a soft expression on his face with his eyes slightly squinted. In fact, research has shown that an affectionate stare between a dog and human raises levels of oxytocin, commonly called the “love hormone.”
When a dog defecates, they may stare up at their pet parent. The pet parent may wonder, “Why on earth is my dog staring at me when he poops?”
Here’s the reason: When a dog is in position to defecate, he’s relatively defenseless. He will stare up at you when he’s pooping for reassurance that you will protect him while he’s in a vulnerable position.
Reading Facial Expressions
Dogs are excellent at reading and interpreting human facial expressions. Your dog might be staring at you to read your facial expression and determine what he should do next.
For example, if you have a worried expression on your face, your dog may decide to cuddle up next to you to try to comfort you.
If your dog gives you this stare, slowly back away, and do not continue the stare.
Aggressive stares signal a behavioral problem. Seek consultation with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to correct this problem.
In general, dog stares are a good thing and communicate positive signals between dogs and people. If a dog’s stare takes a dark turn toward aggression, then it’s time to seek professional help from a veterinarian and dog behavior specialist.