Out of all a dog's senses, eyesight isn't their strongest. But that doesn't mean they don't use their gaze for important stuff — like communicating with their parents and learning about the world around them.
If you lovingly lock eyes with your pup, or make awkward eye contact while they're doing their business, you might wonder why your dog is staring at you. The answer could lead to a better relationship with your canine pal. Here's what you should know.
This strange yet endearing behavior can be chalked up to your dog's affection for and curiosity about you.
Humans and dogs have shared a close bond for thousands of years. During this time, dogs have learned to understand and communicate with us using their gaze and body language.
"He or she loves you or finds you fascinating," Dr. Sarah McCormack, DVM, a veterinarian at Northwest Neighborhood Veterinary Hospital, says. "Dogs can learn a lot from your expressions, movements and behaviors."
Some dogs excel at observing humans so much so that they're trained to be medical alert pups. They can watch for signs of change in their humans, like the beginning of a seizure or a drop in blood sugar. Other pups are keen on knowing when a walk to the park is on the schedule.
Sometimes, your pup may stare at you simply because they're curious. Other times, your dog might stare at you while you eat. While it may feel annoying, they're likely only signaling to you that they're hungry or want some of what you're eating.
"Most dogs are pretty food-obsessed and interested in anyone around them who is eating. You don't need to discourage them from watching you while you eat," Dr. McCormack says.
If you have a pet camera and feel like your dog's staring at you through the screen, it's unlikely they know you're there watching. However, chances are they associate you with the camera if you turn it on before leaving or if it broadcasts sounds.
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If you know your pup well, a loving gaze back is a-OK. Exchanging a few slow blinks, which means “I love you” in many animal languages, is even better, Dr. McCormack says.
Outside of a well-developed human-dog relationship, dogs don’t typically use staring to communicate love and trust. So if you don’t know a dog well, a staring contest might not be so light-hearted.
“When I’m meeting a new dog, I never make direct eye contact straight away,” Dr. McCormack says. Whether you’re a human or another dog, staring back at a dog could translate to aggression.
If you’ve gotten the stare-down while your dog is doing their business, you’re not alone. Dr. McCormack explains that they could be trying to send you a message. Your pup may be expecting a treat for pooping outside of the house. If they’re experiencing straining, pain or other illness, your dog might also be asking with their eyes for a little assistance.
Going to the bathroom is a vulnerable position for many animals — your dog included. Looking at you while doing their business could reassure safety. If your dog follows you everywhere (including to the bathroom) and stares at you, they might be returning the favor.
If you catch your dog zoning out into doggy space, Dr. McCormack says it’s not necessarily a cause for concern.
“Dogs have very good hearing and can probably hear things that we can’t. Plus, they can smell things not on our radar due to our poor sense of smell,” she says.
If you have a senior pup and they often stare into space, it might be time for a check-up. Senior dogs can develop dementia similar to humans. Look out for other signs of canine cognitive dysfunction, including:
If the staring is a new behavior, or if you’ve noticed any other changes in your dog, it’s never a bad idea to talk with your vet.
The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.
Photo by Casey Chae on Unsplash