Why Your Dog Stares at the Wall, and When to Worry About It

Most of the time, this behavior isn't a big deal, but it might indicate something else is going on with your dog.

Published May 9, 2023
Rescue mutt puppy lies on bed looking at camera

You've probably seen your dog glaring at a blank space on your wall. They look like they're trying to peer through the plaster to find something hidden on the other side. Sure, there might be a small animal somewhere in your wall, or your dog might just be bored. Short of pulling out your sledge hammer and opening up a hole to find out (and we're sure you're dog would love that option), you'll have to watch your dog for cues as to why they're obsessed with your drywall.

Why Does My Dog Stare at the Wall?

Most of the time, your dog is staring for no particular reason. If you see your dog laying their head down, chilling out, looking at one spot on the wall, they're probably just relaxing. It's when you see other behaviors that you can reasonably assume something else is going on.

1. Something Caught Their Eye

You probably didn't come here because your dog is vegging on the sofa. Your dog is alert, staring intently at the wall. In most cases, this means your dog saw something that put them on alert.

The thing is, this could have been a reflection, a moving shadow, or even a small bug landing on your wall. Many dogs have a very high prey drive, and a reflection or movement is going to trigger their desire to chase. When that happens, they might stare at the last spot they saw the movement, sometimes for a long while.

How to deal with it: You probably don't need to worry too much here. Just check for any reflections or moving light patterns, and try to redirect the light or prevent the movement from triggering your dog. If the offender was a spider or bug, try to get rid of these to keep your dog calm.

2. Your Dog Is Bored

If your dog isn't on high alert, their stare is probably just a coincidence. Sometimes, dogs stare at walls simply because they're bored. Dogs need mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy. If your dog is staring at the wall frequently, it might be a sign that they need more engaging activities to occupy their time.

How to deal with it: Get your pup up off the couch and give them something to do. They probably just need a walk, a quick training session, or even just some quality time with you.

3. There Actually Is Something in the Wall

This doesn't happen all that often, because most modern houses are pretty well sealed (in most cases - your mileage may vary), and there isn't a lot to attract rats in your walls. But it certainly is possible. Your dog might be staring at the wall because they've detected a sound or scent that's caught their attention. It could be a critter scurrying within the walls or even the sound of water running through the pipes.

If it's an internal noise that's just a normal part of your house operating the way it should, there's not much you need to worry about. However, if you hear skittering, the pattering of paws, or strange sounds you can't explain, you may need to take your dog's behavior as a warning. Dogs can even pick up on insects, such as termites and bees, in your wall, so don't take your dog's behavior for granted.

How to deal with it: This one can be harder to solve. You may need to sit with your dog and observe their behavior. If they're getting excited and keep walking up to the wall, pawing at it, or they seem to be following movement, you might have a rodent or pest problem. If so, call your local exterminator. Otherwise, try listening closely - yes, you can even put a glass up against the wall and put your ear to it - to see if you can figure out what's getting your dog's attention. In most cases, you probably don't need to worry too much.

Quick Tip

No, your dog probably isn't staring at your wall because there's a ghost or spectral presence in it. This is a popular meme on the internet, but unless you live in a 19th Century Victorian mansion with a dubious history, your dog is likely staring for another reason.

Something Else Might Be Up With Their Health

This isn't always a problem with (or in) your wall. In some cases, you may need to be concerned more about your dog's health. There are a few conditions and health issues that can trigger odd behavior in dogs.

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine cognitive dysfunction, also known as CCD, is similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. This condition can lead to confusion, disorientation, and changes in behavior. It's one of the health concerns that can affect older dogs and cause them to stare at walls.

How to deal with it: There's only so much you can do to help your dog cope with this condition. If they're staring, just try to redirect your dog with a positive treat or some attention.

Vision Loss

Portrait of a one eye blind Labrador Retriever dog staring at camera outdoors

Dogs with vision problems may stare at walls because they're having difficulty distinguishing between objects and their surroundings. If you notice other signs of vision loss, such as bumping into things or difficulty navigating familiar spaces, they may be suffering from vision loss from glaucoma, cataracts, or another eye condition.

How to deal with it: The best thing you can do is take your dog to the vet if you suspect they're having problems seeing. Depending on what your vet finds, this might not be a big deal. If it is more serious, you can begin working with your dog to help them orient and feel more comfortable.

Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors

This one can be a little tricky. The condition is known canine compulsive disorder (CCD), and it isn't always easy to tell if your dog has it. Where a neurotypical dog might stare at a light reflection on the wall for a few minutes, a dog with CCD might go totally bonkers and lock onto the wall for hours.

How to deal with it: The likely thing that's triggering your dog is their very high prey drive. Some dogs have just been bred to lock onto movement and chase anything that flickers about. First, make sure the spot they're locking onto isn't catching the reflection off a piece of glass, or that a shadow isn't moving across it at some point. Make sure you don't have any insects or other pests that might be attracting your dog's attention. Then, work on training and behavioral conditioning to help your dog relax and let it go.

More Ways to Help Dogs Who Are Obsessed With Walls

In extreme cases, a dog may become locked in, basically to the point where their behavior is a serious problem. This probably means your dog is dealing with something like CCD. At that point, you need to take action to determine the underlying cause and address it. Here are some steps you can take if your dog stares at walls:

  • Observe your dog's behavior: Monitor your dog closely for any other unusual behaviors or symptoms, such as disorientation, distress, changes in appetite, or other compulsive actions. This will help you provide valuable information to your veterinarian if needed.
  • Know the key indicators: Dogs with CCD aren't just lounging about, staring lazily at your wall. They're acting like whatever has their attention is life or death. It's this behavior you should look for. Be aware, this sort of thing can build up over time, so it's best to redirect your dog and help them adjust.
  • Increase mental and physical stimulation: If you suspect boredom might be part of the problem, make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and mental engagement. Schedule daily walks, playtime, and consider providing puzzle toys or interactive games to keep your dog's mind occupied. This can really help dogs suffering from CCD.
  • Check for environmental factors: Look for any potential triggers in your dog's environment, such as reflections, shadows, or noises that could capture their attention. If you find a specific trigger, try to eliminate or minimize it. This is essential for dogs with CCD, because if they can't catch or see the thing that's getting their attention, it can frustrate their normal prey drive and make the problem worse over time.
  • Consult your veterinarian: If your dog's wall-staring behavior persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, schedule a visit to your veterinarian. They can help rule out medical issues like vision problems, cognitive dysfunction, or compulsive disorders and recommend treatments if needed.
  • Seek professional help from a canine behaviorist: If your dog's behavior doesn't improve after consulting with a veterinarian or if you suspect anxiety or stress is the cause, consider seeking the help of a professional dog behaviorist or trainer. They can provide tailored advice and training techniques to address your dog's specific needs.

Remember that every dog is unique, and it might take some time to determine the cause of your dog's wall-staring behavior. Most of the time, it's nothing to worry about, but if you see your dog becoming obsessive, take note. By being observant, proactive, and consulting with professionals when needed, you can help ensure the well-being of your furry companion.

Keep an Eye on Your Dog

Dogs staring at walls can be a perplexing sight for pet owners, but understanding the possible explanations can help put your mind at ease. Whether it's due to their heightened senses, boredom, or a medical issue, it's essential to monitor your dog's behavior and seek veterinary advice if needed. Providing your dog with mental and physical stimulation and maintaining regular check-ups with your vet will help ensure that your furry friend stays happy, healthy, and engaged in their environment.

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Why Your Dog Stares at the Wall, and When to Worry About It