Why does my dog stare at me? An expert explains

  • Being a pet owner gives throws next questions at you every day – and “why does my dog stare at me?” is more common than you might think. There are several reasons that your dog might be staring at you and in some circumstances it can be very easy to misinterpret. Could they be anxious? Are they hungry? Do they need the toilet? Are they mad? Here are a few reasons I believe they stare at you – some are not as obvious as others.

    Reasons why your dog is staring at you

    They’re having a poo

    This behaviour amazes most of my clients and is something many owners have never considered. Humans prefer a little privacy and some of us we are very particular about where we go and many only like to go in your home. Well dogs aren’t that fussy, but what concerns them when doing a number two is that they are at their most vulnerable in this position.

    If they’re staring at you while they’re in the poo position, you should be flattered. They are seeing you as their safe person, the one who looks out for them if a predator suddenly appears from the trees mid poop. They are in a vulnerable position and are relying on you as back up. My first mastiff would do one of two things – he would either stare at me or stick his head in a bush thinking that if he hid his head no one else could see him either, which wasn’t his brightest idea.

    Some dogs poo and move. This can be infuriating for the person picking it up, but whether your dog is walking in a straight line or circling, they are doing this because they do not feel safe. In this case, the worst thing you can do is get irritated by it. To help them feel less anxious, start by taking them somewhere quiet and discreet when you are out walking and stay right by them until they become more confident.

    They want something

    This option is fairly obvious even to the most novice of dog owners, particularly if you’re eating. They’re just waiting for you to drop a morsel on the floor or place a bit in their mouth. You can make this a whole lot worse by complying with those pleading puppy dog eyes, and then the behaviour becomes a learnt trait, so every time you eat the dog will think it’s reward time, too.

    If it’s not food, they may stare at you if they want to play or they may have got one of their favourite toy stuck somewhere, in which case this will be accompanied by a pitiful whine as well. They can look at you if you’re late prepping their food or going out for a walk. This is more likely if you stick to rigid timetables, which I don’t recommend. Dogs can also just stare if they need the toilet – not every dog will go to the door and bark or whine to communicate this.

    Watching and waiting for the cue

    If your dog is well trained, he may stare at you waiting for the next command, such as if you’ve asked him to stay. He’s anticipating whether they will be recalled in or you will walk back to them so they watch for you next body signal and command.

    Body language

    Your dog maybe looking at you to read your facial expressions and determine what he should do next – for example, if you are sad your dog may try to comfort you or if you’re annoyed they may make themselves scarce.

    Showing affection

    When you have a very strong bond with your dog they will often stare at you to demonstrate affection – their expression is usually soft and their eye slightly squinted. Research has shown that affectionate stares between dogs and owners raise levels of oxytocin, the love hormone.

    Seeking approval

    I never look at a dog unless I want to give the “yes” cue to affirm the right behaviour, or if I want to engage in play or affection. I never give a dog hard confrontational stare. When you watch dogs interact, you will see them exhibit this behaviour with other canines – for example, the matriarch or elder tends  not to engage younger boisterous dogs until they are calm and respectful towards them, they literally stare right past them until the correct behaviour is exhibited. Sometimes even then they still may not wish to engage with them despite lots of appeasement and licking behaviour from the other dog.

    When should you be worried if your dog stares at you?


    If your dog (or any dog) is staring at you and the gaze is hard with stiffened body posture, then disengage and do not stare them down. Some dogs consider staring as rude and threatening, hence the reactivity from your dog can occur if he is being “eyeballed” by another dog.

    Often owners tell me that their dog will randomly bark and lunge at another dog, but on another day will see 10 and not make a sound. This is because the owner is not aware of the other dogs around them; they do not pay attention to another dog’s body language. The breeds most associated with staring are your intense and intelligent dogs, such as Border Collies, German Shepherds and rottweilers, but all dogs are capable of it.

    Whale eye

    This can also be linked to aggression although it’s more likely to be seen in resource guarding and fearful dogs. If your dog is guarding a bone, toy or even the sofa, this look is common before the warning growl or snap. A frightened dog may also exhibit the same stare so do not push yourself upon it. If you experience any of these scenarios, then it’s always best to seek the advice of a vet or a behaviourist.


    This is common in the older dog – they can be staring at you or off in to space. If they seem confused, keep having toilet mishaps and their behaviour changes, such as crying and restlessness at night and their feeding is off, then you should contact you vet.

    You might also like:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...