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6 things your dog is trying to communicate by staring at you, according to vets

  • Your dog stars at you for all kinds of reasons, including simply as an expression of love.
  • Sometimes dogs look at you because they want something from you or are looking for guidance.

Dogs often engage in all kinds of curious behavior, like howling when they hear certain sounds, tilting their heads when you talk to them, or even staring at you while you watch TV or read a book.

There is almost always a reason why your dog will engage in these specific behaviors, says Erin Askeland, a certified dog behavior consultant and animal health and behavior expert for Camp Bow Wow. Staring, in particular, can indicate that your dog has something on their mind.

While more research is needed to fully explain many aspects of dog behavior like staring, there are a few reasons why your dog may intently focus on you.

Here are six reasons why your dog may stare at you and when it is a cause for concern.

1. Your dog wants something from you

Dogs may focus their attention on their owner if they are seeking attention or food, Askeland says.

“Much of this comes from conditioning as it’s common practice to teach dogs to focus on you or look at you during training,” Askeland says. “In learning this, dogs are likely to offer up that focus on their own in the hopes of getting what they want or being rewarded in some way.”

2. Your dog is trying to understand you

Dogs may also stare at their owners in an effort to read and understand their owner’s body language, which is a good indication to them of their owner’s emotional state. Like if their owner is sad and needs comforting or is happy and up for some play time.

“Dogs are keen on using nonverbal communication such as body language not only in their own way to express themselves but also in reading others,” Askeland says.

3. Your dog is looking for guidance

Your dog may stare at you because they are unsure of what’s going on and are trying to pick up on your cues, Askeland says.

For example, if you grab your keys, your dog may assume you are getting ready to leave the house and will watch you intently to see what happens next.

Some dog breeds may also be more prone to staring at humans and processing visual questions than others, says Liz Dimit, a franchise dog trainer for Dogtopia, a dog daycare, and boarding service.

For example, dogs that were bred for visual guide work, like Labrador retrievers and German shepherds are quick to make eye contact and observe a human’s body language.

Siberian huskies on the other hand are bred to pull sleds and respond to verbal commands, so they may react more slowly to visual cues and be less likely to stare, Dimit says.

4. Your dog is expressing love

If you have a strong relationship with your dog, then they may look at you directly in the eyes as an exceptional way of expressing sincere and deep affection, Askeland says.

“This is not a naturally comfortable way of communicating in the dog-to-dog world, if a dog is comfortable looking at you directly in the eyes, it’s likely because they feel at ease with you,” Askeland says.

A loving stare may accompany some soft blinks, Askeland says, and a tail wag or the dog moving closer to you.

5. Your dog is showing aggression

Sometimes a dog’s stare can indicate aggression if they are in a situation where they feel uncomfortable, threatened, or on guard, Askeland says. Like if they’re trying to guard a valuable resource, like a bone.

In this case, your dog may stare without blinking, Dimit says, and may be on the verge of attacking or taking off after a target.

Other signs of aggression in dogs include:

  • A lowered head
  • Stiff body posture
  • lip lift
  • Ears that are raised forward
  • A barely moving or stagnant tail

If you notice these other signs in addition to staring, your dog may feel threatened and need some space, Askeland says.

6. Your dog is aging

As dogs grow older, their mental faculties may begin to fail, which can cause them to become confused or disoriented, Askeland says.

Sometimes randomly staring with no real purpose is a sign of this mental decline and may even indicate a disease known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

This disease is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans and is estimated to affect:

  • About 22.5% of dogs older than 9
  • About 28% of dogs between the ages of 11 and 12
  • About 68% of dogs between the ages of 15 and 16

Other signs of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome include:

  • Wandering around aimlessly
  • Confusion with basic commands
  • Seeming disoriented in familiar settings
  • Accidents in the house

If your dog is frequently staring blankly with a glazed-over expression, it may be something to get checked out by a vet, Askeland says.

There is currently no treatment for canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, but there are ways to slow its progression and make your dog more comfortable — such as maintaining a routine and creating a stress-free environment.

Insider’s Takeaway

Your dog may stare at you for a number of reasons, including to seek attention or food, to express love, or in an attempt to interpret your body language and visual cues. A dog may also stare as a sign of aggression, particularly if they feel threatened or are guarding a valuable item, like a bone.

On the other hand, if you notice your dog staring blankly with a glazed-over expression, it could be a sign of mental decline or a disease known as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. If your dog’s staring is accompanied by confusion, disorientation, or other odd behaviors, like suddenly having accidents in the house, have them examined by a vet.

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