Jack Russell terrier staring at dog owner

Key takeaway

Dogs like to stare at their owners for a variety of reasons because dogs use non-verbal cues as a way to communicate. Your dog might stare to tell you they want something, are confused, or to try and understand your body language.

Do you ever notice that your dog is staring at you? No matter what you are doing, whether it's watching television or working from home, your dog always seems to have an eye on you. While it would be strange for a person to stare at you throughout the day, it's completely normal for a dog to stare. Dogs stare at their owners a lot, forcing owners to wonder what their dog is trying to say.

While you can't know exactly what your dog is thinking, their staring is their way of communicating with you. Dogs also have different stares, and as a pet parent, you'll learn how to interpret those different stares to tell you what your dog is trying to say. This article will discuss possible reasons why your dog is staring at you.

5 Reasons Dogs Stare

As we've already mentioned, dogs stare at you for a variety of reasons, ranging from them trying to communicate with you to curiosity about what you're doing. Did you know? Looking into your dog's eyes can actually be beneficial for both of you because it releases feel-good hormones, such as oxytocin and allows you to better bond with your pet.

Of course, you shouldn't stare at all dogs in the eyes. Some dogs find staring at them to be threatening and can become anxious or aggressive if you stare at them for too long. You know your dog best, though, so always use your best judgment when it comes to their staring and your own.

Your pet uses their dog body language to express themselves. Their body language can tell you whether they want something, they're in pain, or when they're scared. It can also tell you when they're happy and relaxed. Here are the common reasons dogs stare.

They’re trying to tell you something

1. They're Trying To Tell You Something

Most pet parents wish their animals could talk because it can be difficult to understand exactly what they want from us. While your dog can be staring for just about any reason, they may be trying to tell you something. For example, if you're eating at the dining table and your dog keeps staring at you, they're likely trying to tell you that they're hungry or the food you're eating smells delicious. Dogs often beg at the dinner table unless they've been trained not to. However, dogs may have also trained their owners to give them some scraps every time they stare while their owner is eating.

Additionally, your dog's staring could be telling you they need something from you, such as to go for a walk at their regularly scheduled time or to go outside to potty. If your dog is staring at you, check the clock to see if you're accidentally missing an important part of their daily routine. Dogs thrive on routines, so if it's almost walk time or walk time has passed, your dog might stare at you to try to remind you.

Dogs can also stare because they simply want attention. If you've spent all day busy doing work or chores, your dog might feel like you haven't spent enough time with them, so they'll choose to stare at you. If you're resting on the couch, your dog might stare at you to get you to pet or play with them..

Some pet parents will try to stop their dogs from staring by no longer giving in to their pets. For example, if a dog stares because they want attention, an owner might choose not to give them attention to teach their dog not to beg. However, dogs are smart and will find other ways to get your attention since their staring is their way of trying to talk to you. Instead, you can teach your dog how to ask for attention, food, and walks through proper training. For example, you can train your dog to bring you their leash when it's time for a walk.

Dogs might also use staring to tell you what their current emotions are. For example, some dogs might stare when they're feeling nervous or aggressive, which is why it's important to know your dog's body language. If your dog is staring at you and they are tense with an upright, stiff tail, it could mean they are upset about something or trying to be territorial. If your dog resource guards, they may give you eye contact and stiff body language to protect their treat, bone, toy, or whatever they're guarding so that you won't try to take it away.

Dogs may also stare to express positive emotions. Your dog loves you just as much as you love them, so they may stare lovingly into your eyes to express those feelings. Additionally, as we've mentioned, staring at you can increase their oxytocin levels, a hormone known as the love hormone. Ultimately, your dog might be staring at you because they love their owner and want to stare at them.

Staring dogs are typically harmless when their body language is relaxed, and if you can figure out why your dog is staring, it can be an effective way to communicate with one another.

They want something

2. They Want Something

Since staring is a way your dog communicates with you, dogs may also stare because they want something. Dogs use eye contact with their owners to ask for something they want, such as begging for food. However, your dog might also want something like a walk or to play. If your dog wants to play, they might start making exaggerated movements and bowing to signal to you that they're trying to play. Additionally, your dog might stare at you to get your attention and then look off at the object they want. For example, if your dog wants you to fill their treat-dispensing toy with peanut butter, they may look at you to get your attention and then look down at the toy. Other dogs aren't so subtle and will bring you what they want and drop it in your lap, then stare at you.

In some cases, it's okay to reinforce the behavior and give your dog what they want, especially if it's a basic need they have. For example, if you've forgotten to feed your dog dinner, your dog might look at you while you're cooking in the kitchen and then look down at their bowl.

However, there might be some types of behaviors you don't want to reinforce, such as giving your dog a treat or toy every time they look at you. If your dog is only staring at you because they know they'll get a treat-dispensing toy, and they've already had one within the last hour, it might not be best to give in.

They’re confused

3. They're Confused

Dogs stare when they're confused or feel overwhelmed. This type of staring is them asking you to clarify something for them so they can understand what you want from them. If your dog is confused or trying to understand something you said to them, they may also change the position of their ears and tilt their head to try to hear you better.

For example, if you're trying to teach your dog a new command, they will often stare up at you, trying to understand what they should do. When training your dog, it's important to practice patience because your dog doesn't speak your language, so it's difficult for them to understand exactly what you want from them. If you start noticing a lot of head tilting and staring, you may have to adjust your training strategy to help them learn the cues you want them to learn.

They’re showing signs of cognitive dysfunction

4. They're Showing Signs Of Cognitive Dysfunction

As we just mentioned, dogs can stare when they're confused, but they can also stare as a sign of cognitive dysfunction, such as with dog dementia. Dogs with cognitive dysfunction are typically disoriented and confused more often and may wander around or forget basic commands. 1 Cognitive dysfunction typically happens as dogs get older, and symptoms include loss of memory function and learning abilities. Therefore, your dog might be staring at you because they're confused about a lot of things going on, especially if you give them a command they used to know.

They’re reading your body language

5. They're Reading Your Body Language

Dogs learn a lot from their owners, so a dog may stare at you, trying to understand what you're going to do next or what you're currently doing. If you catch your dog staring at you, they might be trying to figure out if you're about to do something that will affect them. For example, your dog might stare at you around bedtime to see if you're going to get up and take them for a walk soon.

Dogs may also go out of their way to stare at you when you're doing certain things, such as putting your shoes on, so they can understand that you're going to leave the house soon.

Your dog might also be staring at you to understand what they should be doing. For example, if you're teaching your dog new commands, they might be looking at your hands and body language to figure out what you want from them. Many owners use hand signals during training to help their dogs understand what they should be doing, so your dog might be looking at you for those nonverbal cues to understand what they should do next.

Dog Staring: FAQs

Is it bad for my dog to stare at me?

In most cases, it's perfectly normal and safe for your dog to stare at you. However, it's important you understand your dog's body language. For example, if your pet suffers from dog anxiety, they might have stiff body language and stare at you to try to tell you they're not comfortable with what you're doing, especially if you're too close to a toy they are resource guarding.

How can I get my dog to stop staring?

In some cases, you can let your dog stare, especially if they're not using their stare to beg or ask for something. However, if your dog is using staring as a way to train you to give in to everything they want, it's always best not to reinforce the behavior. If you want your dog to stop staring at you when they want something, you can train them how to properly ask for the things they want, such as walks and food. Then, you can start to ignore their staring, and without rewards, they'll stop doing it.

How do you read dog body language?

Your dog's body language involves everything from their nose to the tip of their tail. Dog body language can tell you a lot about how your dog is feeling, so it's important to understand your dog's cues. All dogs are different, but some may use their tail to communicate their emotions more than others. For example, if your dog is stressed, they may wag their tail in a more upright and stiff position, while a dog that is happy and playful may wag their tail more relaxed but faster.

Since all dogs are different, it's important to spend time with your dog to get to know their cues. Eventually, you'll know everything there is to know about your dog's body language and what it's trying to tell you.

Hand petting happy dog

Final Notes

Dogs like to stare at their owners as a way of communicating. If your dog is staring at you, they might be trying to tell you they want something like attention or food, or it could be their way of trying to understand something you're doing, whether it's getting up to go to the bathroom or making cues with your hands to teach them a new trick. However, dogs can also stare when they're anxious or scared. If your dog stares at you while experiencing stiff body language, it could be a sign that they're feeling territorial and can become aggressive. Most of the time, aggressive behavior in dogs is due to an underlying anxiety problem, which a qualified vet can help your pup overcome.

Dutch offers telemedicine for pets to help anxious dogs have a better quality of life while improving pet parents' relationships with their anxious pups. With Dutch's veterinary behavioral services, you can help your dog become less fearful to help them overcome situations where they might stare or show stiff body posture as a result of their fear.

References

  1. Staff, AKC. "Are My Dogs Playing Rough or Fighting?" American Kennel Club, 30 Apr. 2021, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/are-they-playing-or-fighting/