Why Does My Dog Stare At Me? A Veterinary Behaviorist Explains
If you've ever felt like you're being watched in the comfort of your home, and not by your human family members, you may wonder: Why is my dog always staring at me? Most likely, your canine child is staring at you in a positive manner, but there are instances when a dog could be staring out of aggression.
Body language and other factors can help you distinguish between a loving gaze and an aggressive stare. Veterinary behaviorist Leslie Sinn, CPDT-KA, DVM, DACVB, explains four reasons a dog might stare at their humans—and when (if ever) it's OK to stare back.
They Want Something
If your dog is staring at you when it's close to dinnertime or time for their evening walk and you're still sitting on the couch, chances are they're simply trying to get your attention so you can give them what they want. Sinn says this is a very common reason dogs stare at their owner. Typically, you can tell if your dog is staring at you out of longing if they're licking or whining to try and get your attention.
They're Expressing Affection
Your pup staring at you might actually be their way of expressing their love for you. If your dog appears to be "loose and wiggly," as Sinn describes it, without begging for something, they're probably just gazing at you because they love you.
RELATED: Why Does My Cat Stare at Me?
They're Displaying Aggression
While dogs commonly stare for positive reasons—they can also stare out of aggression.
When determining the cause for staring, reading your dog's body language is key. Sinn says some signs a dog could be staring out of aggression include:
- Dilated pupils
- Curled lip
- Ears that are pitched forward
- Elevated tail
Facial expressions can also tell you a lot about how your dog might be feeling, and if your dog's brow is furrowed, they're most likely staring out of aggression. Growling or snarling is another tell-tale sign of an aggressive stare, according to Sinn.
Sinn says if you can't figure out what exactly is triggering your dog, it's important to seek professional help—like a veterinarian or behavior expert—in order to avoid any further issues or aggression. If your dog is showing signs of aggressive staring, back away slowly and stop what you're doing if it seems to be provoking them.
They're Looking for Direction
Your dog might not be staring at you because they're looking for something in particular. They might be looking at you for direction. You can even train your dog to look at you so they can better understand your instruction.
"Dogs that have been engaged in competition, for example, their handlers or trainers may well have taught the dog to maintain or seek eye contact in order to be better able to cue them and give them instruction," Sinn says.
Should You Stare Back at Your Dog?
The short answer: no. Sinn says if you are fully certain your dog is staring out of affection or wanting something, you could possibly stare back without consequence, but only if you know for a fact they're looking at you positively. If it's a dog who isn't yours and you aren't very familiar with them, you should never stare back, even if they don't seem like they're being aggressive.
"Basically, it's like staring at a person—it's impolite regardless of the species. It can provoke aggression," Sinn says. "You don't just go up to random strangers and stare in their eyes because it's just not a good idea."