Why Does My Dog Stare at Me? Understand Your Dog's Signals

We've decoded the five things your dog could be trying to communicate by staring at you.

Published January 23, 2023
A close up of a cocker spaniel puppy sitting on the floor indoors, looking up to his owner.

If your dog constantly gazes up at you with those big puppy-dog eyes, you might wonder what gives. Why does your dog stare at you? Because they're trying to tell you something. Your dog's long stare could be their way of saying, "I love you," "I want something," or even, "I'm sizing you up." Pay attention to this behavior - along with other clues from their body language - to figure out why your dog is staring at you and what it means.

Why Is My Dog Staring at Me?

Eye contact isn't generally a way dogs communicate with each other, with the exception of prolonged eye contact being a sign of aggression. But studies suggest pet dogs have learned to use glances and stares as a form of communication with their owners. Here are a few of the things they could be trying to tell you:

"I Want Something"

Dogs have a lot of ways of telling you they need something, such as barking, whining, licking, or pawing. You can also add staring to the list. Researchers suggest dogs' eyes muscles have evolved over the last 33,000 years to give them that "puppy-dog eye" appearance you simply can't resist. Survival instinct, indeed. Your dog's stare might mean they want food, comfort, safety, play, to be petted, or to go for a walk.

"I'm Reading You"

Your dog might be staring at you with the intention of watching you, though not in a creepy way. They're just curious about what you're up to. Maybe you're walking toward the treat jar, and they wonder if you're going to stop and offer them something. Maybe you're putting on your shoes, and they're curious about where you're going. Other signs of curiosity include a head cocked to the side and erect ears.

Experts also believe dogs have learned to read a person's mood or character by staring at them. So maybe they're just trying to judge how many dog kisses you need to lift your mood.

"I'm in a Vulnerable Position"

Have you ever noticed your dog stare at you while they poop? It's because they're in an incredibly vulnerable position. When they're posturing to defecate, dogs are susceptible to predators, so they'll often look up at you to communicate they need protection. Catching their eye lets them know you have their back. Dogs might display staring behavior in other situations where they feel vulnerable, such as if someone new is visiting your home, or if they meet a stranger who is making them anxious while out and about.

"I Need You to Back Off"

Staring between dogs is often an aggressive behavior, so it's possible your dog could be staring at you as a way to say, "Back off." This might happen in scenarios where your dog has become possessive over food, toys, or another person. Typically, if a dog is staring at you because they're becoming angry or aggressive, they'll give you other signals, such as pinning their ears back, lowering their head, raising their body up, stiffening their body, showing their hackles (raised hair on their back), or even snarling and growling.

You don't need to worry too much if your dog is staring at you but not acting aggressively. Aggressive behavior is more likely to happen with a dog you're unfamiliar with versus your own dog, but it's never wise to challenge any dog who is staring at you aggressively. Simply break eye contact and remove yourself from the situation. However, if your dog displays aggression, you need to address the behavior and consult with a behaviorist to make sure you and your family are safe.

"I Love You"

Gazing into your eyes could simply be a way for your dog to express their affection for you. Research shows that both dogs and their owners release oxytocin, which is described as the "love hormone," when they look directly into each other's eyes. Along with a loving stare, your dog may also wag their tail, have an open-mouthed grin, and lay their head on your knee.

I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me

Dogs stare as a way to communicate with you. You can often decode what it is they're trying to say through their body language and the setting or circumstances. Watch their expression, and see how they react to you when you get up, give them a pet, bring them food, or try to address their staring. Dogs can't talk, so your relationship rests on a dance of communication as you read each other's body language. And if it's simply an "I love you" stare, know that you're building a bond for a lifetime. Otherwise, your dog probably wants to know, "Where's the treat, already?"

Why Does My Dog Stare at Me? Understand Your Dog's Signals