Those eyes boring holes into the back of your head while you’re at home? That’s your dog. Staring at you. For what seems to be no reason at all.
But, dogs stare for a variety of reasons. Here are eight common reasons your dog may be giving you a long, hard look.
Your dog wants attention
Maybe it has been left to its own devices while you plugged away on your computer or did your chores. Your pooch may be bored and want some love and affection from its human companion. That stare means it wants you to drop what you’re doing and give it some love. The reason your dog is staring may be that simple.
Engage with your pup! Play a game like tug of war, if your dog loves toys, or give it an ear scratch. Do some trick training. Cuddle on the couch. Dogs require attention, time and energy, and can get bored and lonely just like humans. Dogs want to interact with their humans and may be trying to get a response by staring at you. Some dogs will communicate further once their stare has worked. For example, it might roll onto their back and expose its stomach even if you’re across the room — that dog wants a belly rub.
Your dog is expressing affection
“Recent studies have shown that our dogs respond to our facial expressions,” according to PetMD. “When you gaze into your dog’s eyes, his oxytocin levels increase up to 130 per cent.”
Stare back! Staring into your dog’s eyes can also increase your levels of oxytocin, which is sometimes called the love or cuddle hormone. But don’t stare directly into the eyes of an unfamiliar dog, as this can be taken as threatening to dogs that aren’t part of your family. Staring for too long, even at your beloved dog, might make it uncomfortable, so break eye contact before that happens.
Your dog wants your dinner
This is a common reason for your dog’s undivided attention. You and your plate settle at your kitchen table, or on your couch, and your dog takes up space right next to you, nose inches from your meal, eyes in full-blown cute mooch mode.
“Dogs stare at you while you eat because they want what you’re eating. In the wild, dogs stare at the pack leader as he eats,” according to Rehome from Adopt-A-Pet.
If it learns that staring at you during your meals results in getting a tasty treat off your plate, your dog is unlikely to stop using its puppy dog eyes. The best way to cut down on unwanted staring during dinner is to never feed your dog from your plate or table. This way, you’re not rewarding the behaviour.
Give your dog something else to do instead: send it to its bed or give it a coveted toy that it only gets during human meal time. It can help to feed your dog before you eat so it’s not hungry and can be more easily distracted with a toy or command.
Your dog wants their dinner (or lunch, or breakfast)
Dogs have a basic sense of schedule. They know what time of day they get fed, or get to go outside, or what time you leave for work in the morning. If you’re running late at meal time, they let you know by turning their gaze on you. If your dog is staring and the clock says it’s past their usual meal time, it’s likely they want their food.
Your dog needs to know what to do next
Some well-trained dogs are command oriented and your dog may be looking for you to give it direction about what it is supposed to do. Maybe your dog wants to be told to run, or sniff, or sit. If your dog has had significant verbal or cue training, it’s watching you for further instructions.
All dogs look for clues about what to expect from your body language and actions, and this means they watch you intently and frequently. Dogs read body language and repetitive cues. For example, your dog may know when you turn off your desk lamp you are going to take it outside, or that when you put your coat on and grab your phone you’re leaving it at home. Your actions communicate volumes. Your dog may be watching your body language so it knows what’s going to happen next.
Your dog wants protection
Dogs often stare at their owners with a sheepish expression when they’re going to the bathroom. They’re vulnerable while they’re defecating, so they look to their owner to protect them from perceived threats, like other pedestrians, dogs, or skateboarders. Wear a reassuring, confident facial expression if your dog stares at you while it’s going to the bathroom so it knows you are looking out for it. Your pet could be looking for confirmation that you know it needs you.
Your dog is waiting for you to drop something in the kitchen
If you’re in the kitchen preparing a meal, you might find your dog on the other side of the counter staring up at you. Dogs know where meal prep happens and they know if they move fast enough, they’ll get to whatever you drop before you do. The most alluring scavenged bits are meat, although every dog has its favorite treat or snack.
Your dog wants something
Maybe their favourite toy is stuck behind the scary vacuum, or sitting up on a shelf it can’t reach and it wants you to get it down for them. Maybe it wants a treat for being a good girl/boy. Maybe he or she needs to go outside to use the facilities. You might need to experiment. If it’s not immediately obvious why your dog is staring, try giving it a toy, a belly rub, a trick command, or a snack and see what gets them to stop or distracts them towards a new behaviour.