You’re going about your evening when you sense it. The unmistakable feeling you’re being watched. You slowly turn your head, searching for the source. And then you find it—canine eyes, peering at you. Why is your dog staring at you? Is he plotting world domination? Is he worried about you? Is he hungry? Do you have something between your teeth?! Staring is a behaviour that puzzles and sometimes worries many pet parents. There are many good reasons why your dog is staring at you.

#1 He is showing affection

Just as you gaze lovingly into your partner’s eyes, dogs look into our eyes to indicate they like us. You’ll see your dog has a soft expression, maybe with slightly squinty eyes.

Please note this gaze should be a voluntary behaviour. You should never hold a dog’s head still and stare into his eyes hoping for a mutual loving gaze. This can be a common mistake made by young children who often like to hold dogs still so they can look at them more closely. Your dog could take this action as a threat and may not react affectionately at all. But if your dog is staring at you all gooey-eyed, this is usually just what it looks like—a sign that he loves you!


#2 He’s looking for clues

While you may sometimes feel your dog rules the roost, you are actually the one in charge. You decide what he eats and when he eats. You decide when he goes outside. You decide when to have playtime, when to take him for medical care, and where he sleeps. You choose his human and canine friends, and when he gets to interact with them. You’re calling the shots! So your dog is quite invested in figuring out what you’re up to as it directly affects his life.

Dogs are much better at reading our body language than we are at reading theirs. Their sense of smell and hearing are more acute than ours, and it also benefits them as a species to be super-observant. They can figure out when you’re about to leave for work—you may get your coat, pick up your keys or pick up a purse or a briefcase. They know when you pull out a suitcase you may be leaving them behind. They can often tell when you’re not feeling well, when you’ve had a cranky day or when you’re sad. 

When your dog stares at you he’s oftentimes monitoring your behaviour to find out what’s going on and how it will impact him. Makes you a little self-conscious now, doesn’t it?

#3 He needs something

Maybe he really needs to go outside to potty. Maybe he’s starving because you’re five minutes late feeding him dinner. Maybe he just lost his ball under the couch and you’re the only one who can save it. Dogs can’t talk to us to tell us what they want, but many dogs have wonderfully expressive eyes and use them to try and communicate with us. So your dog could be staring at you because he needs you to help him with something or he wants you to do something.

#4 You’re eating something

Just because your dog has never had a potato chip in his life doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be game to help you eat that bag of chips right now. Some pet parents worry that their dog is trying to dominate them if their dog stares at them while they are eating, but this could not be farther from the truth. You don’t have to eat something before your dog eats to prove you’re a leader. The answer is much simpler–your dog isn’t trying to elevate his position; your dog just wants you to share! Those chips look and
smell delicious.

If you ever fed your dog while you were eating you taught him to stare at you; he now expects you to do it again. So you may have created a habit you now find annoying. Whether or not you taught the behaviour, if it bothers you, you can train your dog to settle on his bed with a food-stuffed toy while you eat or simply put him in another room.

#5 He is exhibiting aggression

This is not as common, but it does happen. If a dog gives you a hard stare, eyes unblinking, and has a stiff posture, this is aggression. You may see it if you reach for food or a toy that the dog is guarding, or if you approach a dog that doesn’t want you to come closer. If you ever encounter this, do not stare directly back into the dog’s eyes. Move slowly away from the dog. If it is your dog, then please seek professional help from a modern, positive dog trainer.

When your dog stares at you, there can be many things behind those eyes, but most often it is love or the desire to communicate a desire or a need. After all, when you return the gaze, you’re looking into the eyes of a sensitive (and frequently hungry) friend.

Teoti Anderson, CPDT, owns Pawsitive Results ( and is the past president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, as well as the author of Your Outta Control Puppy, Super Simple Guide to Housetraining, Quick and Easy Crate Training, and Puppy Care and Training.