Why Your Dog Stares at You

Do you ever feeling like someone is watching you? Someone with four legs, perhaps? If you've been wondering why your dog stares at you, you've come to the right place.

Understanding your dog's body language, especially as it pertains to eye contact, is incredibly important. Dogs communicate using a range of subtle nonverbal cues, and you can learn so much just from watching them.

First, I think it's incredibly important to address an important myth as to why your dog stares at you: dominance.

Worried dog guardians often express concern that their dog might be staring at them in an effort to exert dominance over them.

Fortunately, we've learned a ton over the last few years about dominance as it pertains to domesticated dogs, and the research has made it clear that dogs are not in competition with us for any sort of rank or hierarchy.

So rest assured that when we're determining why your dog stares at you, the answer cannot be found within this myth of dominance.

With that said, let's dive into some of the possible reasons why your dog stares at you:

Dog stares at you in anticipation
An anticipatory dog will typically look otherwise relaxed, but they will retain quite consistent eye contact.

Your Dog Stares at You in Anticipation

Many dogs that stare intensely at their guardians are anticipating something coming next: playtime, food, a car ride – hey, just seeing you stand up can be exciting for them!

High-drive dogs can be especially human-focused, always eager to work with you at any opportunity. Remember that so much of your dog's day is completely dependent upon your actions and your schedule, so our dogs become highly attuned to us.

If there's a certain time of day you regularly notice your dog watching you in anticipation, take a look at the part of your routine that typically follows: is it almost time for the daily walk, or time for dinner? Or perhaps your dog has determined the time of day you finish up with work calls.

If your dog is staring at you in anticipation, it's not a sign that you're doing anything wrong! But you can always try adding in some mental enrichment or a bit of extra exercise.

Dog stares out of affection
When the reason why your dog stares at you is purely affection, they will typically have soft eyes.

Your Dog Stares at You Affectionately

Yes, your dog really might just be staring longingly at you because they adore you. A fascinating study found that a dog's levels of oxytocin (the same "attachment" hormone responsible for mother-infant bonding) go up after looking at a familiar human's smiling face.

So yes, some dogs absolutely will watch you purely because they have a strong attachment to you, and it makes them feel good to look at you.

If your dog doesn't offer this sort of eye contact, that's ok too! Each individual dog is different in the level of eye contact they are comfortable offering, and it doesn't mean that they aren't bonded with you.

Dog stares at you out of concern
Dogs that are watching you (or another person) out of concern will likely have a furrowed brow, and may also pant, pace, or whine. You may also see the whites of their eyes more prominently.

Your Dog is Concerned

While your dog staring at you can often be a good thing, there are instances in which it can be a sign of anxiety. For example, dogs that suffer from separation anxiety may notice you starting to grab your keys and shoes and start staring at you worriedly.

A furrowed brow and a tightly closed mouth are the classic signs of a dog that is staring at you out of concern. As their stress develops, you might see them begin to pace, pant, or whine.

Also watch for "whale eye," the term for seeing the whites of their eyes more clearly than usual.

Dog stares at you in anticipating of conflict
Be wary of the dog with a stiff body and a hard stare. Typically dogs in these instances will not break eye contact.

Your Dog is Anticipating Conflict

What we're looking at here is the most concerning reason why your dog could be staring at you (or another person.)

When a dog is anticipating the possibility of a conflict, they will often freeze and stare intently at the person or animal they are concerned about.

A hard stare (like the one you see in the photo above) is one of the first signs that the encounter needs to be de-escalated. If you continue the encounter, you may experience growling, snapping, or even a bite.

For example, a dog hovering over its food bowl like this might be anticipating that someone is going to come over to try to take the food away.

If you experience body language like this from your dog, consult a certified trainer through the IAABC or CCPDT. A qualified trainer or behavior consultant can help you determine why the behavior happened and the most effective ways of preventing the behavior from being repeated or otherwise escalating in the future.

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