Why Does my Dog Stare at Me?
The eyes are the window to your dog’s soul
I was mentoring a student dog trainer. One day, she approached me and complained, “I’m having a problem with my dog trying to dominate me.”
“What makes you think your dog is trying to dominate you?” I asked.
“She stares at me every time I eat potato chips! She’s trying to dominate me into giving her potato chips.”
“She’s NOT dominating you,” I laughed. “The girl just wants a potato chip! Your dog is begging. That’s not dominance.”
Unfortunately, many pet parents—and pet professionals—confuse normal dog communication for “dominant” actions. While modern education has done a lot to refute these beliefs, we still have a long way to go.
So why does your dog stare at you? It depends. There are lots of reasons why a dog will look into your eyes.
Does your dog look at you with squinty eyes? His body will be relaxed, and his tail may be wagging. He’ll blink. If so, he’s looking at you with affection. Some pet parents get scared when their dogs look them in the eye, but most of the time it’s absolutely fine. He’s staring into your eyes because he loves you.
Image: Supawat Eurthanaboon/bigstock.com
Sometimes when your dog stares at you, he’s trying to tell you something. Ever wake up and open your eyes, only to find your dog’s eyes peering right back at you? He may be willing you to wake up and take him outside.
Your dog may try to catch your eye when he’s hungry. He’ll stare at you, then at the pantry door where you keep his food, then back to you. Many a dog has dropped a ball in a lap and stared at their owner, hinting strongly that you should throw the ball. If you have children and the baby starts crying, your dog may come and stare at you to get you to stop the wailing. I once had a Labrador who would put his head in my lap and stare at me, pleading, when his younger Belgian Tervuren brother was too relentless in treating him like a chew toy. My Lab was too sweet to discipline the rambunctious puppy on his own, so he came to me to intervene.
There are times when a dog stares at you in warning. If he’s giving you a hard stare, and not blinking, be very careful. He may do this if you try to take something away from him, or move him off the sofa. You might see this when you encounter a strange dog who is not happy about your arrival. Staring a dog in the eye is considered assertive, so avoid doing this to dogs you don’t know or they could perceive it as a threat.
Teaching your dog to look you in the eye is a valuable behaviour. If he’s not paying any attention to you, he certainly won’t come when called, or stop jumping on your guests. Teaching eye contact is a foundation exercise and one of the first things you should teach your dog.
An efficient way to achieve this is by teaching your dog to look at you when you call his name. Get some delicious treats. Say your dog’s name one time. If he looks at you, say “Yes” to mark the moment and hold the treat up to your eye, to sustain the eye contact a few seconds. Then lower the treat and give it to your dog. If he doesn’t look at you, don’t repeat your dog’s name over and over. This is just nagging, and isn’t teaching him to look at you right away. Instead, go to him, touch his nose gently with the treat, then draw it up to your eye. When your eyes meet, say “Yes” to mark the moment, then lower it and give it to your dog. Start training this behaviour in an area with few distractions, then work up to more challenging environments.
Keep in mind you will undo this important behaviour if you say your dog’s name a lot. “Is Fido hungry? Does Fido want to go outside?” In these cases, you’re just using his name in conversation, so it will lose its impact. To keep the behaviour strong, only use his name when you want him to look at you. Use affectionate nicknames for conversation.
It’s said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. When your gaze meets your dog’s it’s a link to a deeper connection.