Why Does My Dog Stare At Me? Canine Eye Contact Explained
While it may be cute to see your dog looking up at you, there’s a point where it starts to get...uncomfortable.
Why does my dog stare at me? Why does your dog stare at you? Are they trying to assert their dominance in this endless game of chicken?
No. Well… probably not. In today’s article, we’ll bust some myths about dog eye contact. We’ll discuss why do dogs stare at you, why we’re uncomfortable with staring as a species and how to stop your dog from staring (if you need to). Let’s do it!
Why is My Dog Staring at Me? 5 Reasons
There are a few key reasons why your dog might be staring at you:
- You’re doing something strange
The hardest stares I would get from my dog was when I started playing the flute. My beginner mistakes offended the delicate eardrums of my young dog which caused her to sit in front of me as I practised and shoot a deathly stare. Most often also accompanied by a cocked head to the side just to rub it in further that she had no idea what I was doing.
Dogs stare to understand and decode. They’re often reading us and gaining knowledge from the environment by sitting still and watching. If your dog is staring at you, you might be doing something out of the ordinary to them. In which case, they’re simply trying to work it out!
- Your dog is showing you they love you
Oddly enough, staring is also a sign of affection and trust in dogs. Mutual staring can be a bonding experience if you decide to shoot those heart eyes right back at them. (1)
You’ll be able to tell if your dog is just sending love vibes to you if they have a relaxed posture and slightly squinty eyes. It’s a sign of affection and a clear demonstration of the bond your dog has with you. All very sweet!
- Your dog wants something from you
This is probably the most common reason my dogs stare at me personally. Ever been stalked by your dog’s hungry eyes as you’re eating? Yep, me too. Maybe even a stray dribble will leave their lips as they fix their eyes on you.
Because your dog can’t speak, their eyes are extremely emotive. Dogs are highly emotionally intelligent animals. (2) The eyes are the windows to the soul. Your clever pup knows that if they stare at you lovingly for long enough, you might buckle under the cuteness and give them your last slice of pizza. Reader discretion is advised.
- Your dog feels threatened and is showing aggression
I put this as the last point because it’s the least common among dog-owner relationships. You’re more likely to have a strange dog stare at you than your own dog at home.
Staring can be a sign of dominance and aggression is accompanied by other body language cues. (3) A stiffened body and heightened ears are tell-tale signs a dog is stressed and upset. It may go so far as growling and lunging.
If your dog is displaying this type of behaviour with you or others in the family, it is quite serious. It’s a symptom of other behavioural problems that you need to stop before they get out of hand.
There’s no magic bullet for this but determining the root of the aggression certainly helps. Some might use dog barking collars or citronella collars to distract and deter your dog from this kind of behaviour while you engage in more structured training. We highly recommend hiring a professional dog trainer to assist you if your dog is staring at you aggressively on several occasions.
What is my dog thinking when he stares at me?
- “What on earth is he/she/they doing?”
- “That’s my human over there. They’re pretty awesome!”
- “Please can I have whatever you’re having?” or “I want to pee/go for a walk/go outside - help me human!”
- “Back off, you’re in my space!”
Why Does Staring Bother Us So Much?
So it’s clear that our pups aren’t really the problem here. Their stares are sending love at all times. It’s we humans that take issue with this seemingly natural and normal piece of dog eye contact.
So what’s going? Why are humans so uncomfortable with staring?
Well, evolutionarily speaking, staring was a mechanism for humans to show dominance over others. Maintaining prolonged eye contact was a fixture of power.
“This response to another person's apparent visual display of dominance has long been attributed to how evolution has conditioned us to respond to threats and also to how accustomed we've become, as a species, to inferring our place in a perceived social hierarchy: If someone is staring us down and we grow uncomfortable, we may, on a gut-level, infer we are of a lower status.” - Katherina Shreiber from Psychology Today, (4)
In plainer terms, when other humans stare at us, it makes us want to square up to assert our dominance or cower in our own inferiority.
It’s a psychological trigger that sends alarm bells. Now it’s important to note that not all cultures have carried this discomfort with staring through to the modern-day. Even in the Western world, our tolerance for staring all differs. In some countries, it’s considered rude. In others, it’s a normal part of societal behaviour.
Then some naturally become accustomed to being stared at because of their difference in society. Be it because of race, disability, gender expression or some other reason.
So not everyone will feel quite as twitchy inside when they’re stared at by their peers, dogs or any other creature. But there is an evolutionary root as to why staring can make us feel uncomfortable internally.
How to Stop Your Dog From Staring At You
As I’ve mentioned throughout, staring generally isn’t an issue. Most of the reasons why your dog will stare at you are communicative or affectionate in nature. You could even be regressing your bond if you try to stop them from staring at you when they mean well. It’s as if you’re dominating them for no reason and rejecting your love. How sad is that?
So I wouldn’t personally advise that you attempt to “correct” this behaviour unless your dog is staring out of aggression. Seek professional help if that’s the case.
However, I want to be balanced. If your dog’s staring is really really bothering you, there is one thing you can do to diminish the number of times it happens.
If your dog stares primarily to communicate with you when they want something, there are two simple tricks you can employ:
- Ignore them
By ignoring them, you’re not giving them the satisfaction of your attention. That’s what they really want. Avoid engaging with them and they’ll use other tactics to communicate with you instead.
- Teach them other tactics to communicate with you
Take things into you own hands and teach your dog skills to communicate with you in less uncomfortable staring ways. For example, can you teach your dog to ring a bell when they want to go outside? Can you use positive training techniques to lessen begging at the table? These are helpful redirects when it comes to lowering the chances of staring behaviour.
Doggy Stares: Your Dog Only Has Eyes For You
The long and short of this article is if your dog is staring at you, don’t worry about it!
Unless your dog is displaying aggressive behaviour while they stare, it’s likely nothing to worry about. They are simply understanding, communicating and loving you.
- Claussen, K. July 1, 2021. “Why Does My Dog Stare At Me?”. Pets WebMD. Retrieved November 11, 2021. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/why-does-my-dog-stare-at-me#2
- Berger, L. March 21, 2017. “Is Your Dog More Emotionally Intelligent Than You?”. Huffington Post. Retrieved November 11, 2021. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/is-your-dog-more-emotionally-intelligent-than-you_b_58c97634e4b04e44ccab0045
- Gibeault, S. November 19, 2019. “Why Does My Dog Stare At Me?”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved November 11, 2021. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-does-my-dog-stare-at-me/
- Schreiber, K. June 22, 2017. “What Happens When Someone Stares at You”. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 11, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truth-about-exercise-addiction/201706/what-happens-when-someone-stares-you