When you and your dog make eye contact and you know that you have their full attention it can be one of the best feelings. Whether you’re getting ready to give your dog a treat, ask them to sit, or waiting for them to calm down before giving them dinner, eye contact means that their attention is on you and that they’re ready to (hopefully) listen. But sometimes your pup will just look at you without being prompted. Haven’t you wondered, “Why does my dog stare at me?” when you don’t call their name or do something to get their attention?
In general, dogs use eye contact to gain information and understand what their human wants them to do, says Philip Tedeschi, Professor and Researcher on the Human-Animal Bond with Rover.com. “Dogs use eye contact as reassurance and understanding in very similar ways that humans do to ascertain interpersonal connection and reaction. This helps us connect with them as well,” he says.
Dogs also use eye contact to show their love for you. “Just like humans gaze into each other’s eyes to show love and affection, so does your dog,” says Tedeschi. “In fact, one study showed that the ‘cuddle hormone’ oxytocin increases in both humans and dogs when they exchange a loving gaze.”
However, Tedeschi points out that if the eye contact between a dog and a human is too long or too intense it might lead to discomfort in the dog—similar to the way two humans staring at each other for a prolonged period of time would make them uncomfortable.
Eye contact is actually not a natural instinct for dogs, but over time they learn that eye contact can often lead to attention or food from their humans. So, if you notice they’re staring at you, it probably means they want something. “Dogs will often stare when you’re doing something that piques their curiosity—like grilling up something that smells tasty or opening the cupboard where the treats are—to see if they can get in on the fun too,” says Tedeschi.
Why does my dog stare at other dogs?
If your dog sees another dog while you’re out for a walk, they might look at them to get their attention, but when two dogs stare at each other, it’s actually a sign of hostility.
“You’ll more frequently see dogs turning away from each other in order to avoid eye contact as sustained staring can be a sign of aggression,” says Tedeschi. “Prolonged eye contact rarely occurs in friendly exchanges between two dogs.” When two dogs meet for the first time, make sure to always approach with caution and never just let your dog run up to an unknown dog. You don’t know how other canines will react.
Why does my dog stare at me when they go to the bathroom?
“When dogs are defecating, they feel like they are vulnerable, so he’s looking to you to protect him and for safety cues as he goes,” says Tedeschi. Most dogs also learn that if they go to the bathroom outside when and where they’re supposed to, they will be rewarded with a treat, so they stare at you to make sure you know that they are doing their business.