Whether it be out of curiosity or pure admiration, most dog owners can attest to their pooches' fascination with tracking their every move and staring right into their soul. Though it can happen under a variety of different circumstances, most often than not it takes place in the kitchen or anywhere else as long as food is involved. But does your four-legged furball try to burn a hole through you with his eyes only in hopes of getting a tasty snack or is there more to the universal behavior? Most importantly, how can you decipher each glance and provide your dog with what he truly needs?
The Root of the Behavior
Unfortunately, in most cases, dogs stare at their owners expectantly and not out of pure admiration for their owner's beautiful facial features. They stare to make sure they don't miss anything, like a treat, that an owner might decide to give out. If it's not tasty snacks they're expecting the four-legged companions stare in anticipation of their owner proposing a certain activity. "Want to go for a walk?", "Are you hungry?", and "Do you want to play?" are phrases all dogs simply love to hear and try to get you to say by staring at you. Dogs don't see their owners as just pack members, they view them as the source of all the great things in life. If staring at their owner 24/7 is what increases the chances of one of the above events happening then that is exactly what they will do.
Another reason a dog might stare at his owner is simply that he wants his attention or approval. Most dogs are very devoted to their owners and live off their cues, direction, and praises. It is possible that your pooch is staring you down because he wants a mission or something he can do to make you proud, get praised for or that leads to being rewarded with a treat. Other times, your furry buddy might be trying to catch your eye in hopes that it would lead to one of the simple pleasures, such as a belly rub or some behind the ear scratching.
Dogs also stare at their owners when they are confused and not sure what their owners want from them or when they are in an unfamiliar situation. This is why many dogs tilt their heads left and right when you ask them a new question or give them an unfamiliar command. Your four-legged buddy will pierce you with his eyes as a way to show you that he is doing his best to understand what you want but needs more guidance. It also happens during walks, when your dog spots another canine across the street heading in your direction. The glance towards your direction is his way of asking "Do you see that dog? Are we okay with that dog coming towards us?"
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs stare at their owners for a myriad of different reasons and thus there is no single way to approach the behavior. Depending on the given situation and context, a dog owner can encourage or discourage certain types of staring. For example, dogs with no previous signs of aggression who have a close relationship with their owners stare at them constantly and mainly out of devotion. This type of staring is encouraged as it is simply one of the ways our four-legged family members show their affection and devotion. Many dog trainers also encourage such behavior as it promotes our dogs to be alert and ready for any cues or commands.
On the other hand, there are two types of staring that should not be encouraged by any owner. The first type is manipulation staring, it usually occurs at the dinner table and its only purpose is to get you to break and let your dog get something from your plate. This type of staring should be discouraged as it weakens the boundaries between the dog and his owner and gives him the control in a given situation. Though the mid-meal snack under the table might seem harmless, it can lead to the development of begging behavior. In addition, allowing your dog to eat table scraps or leftovers can get your dog to be less interested in his kibble and after some time he might refuse to eat his dog food altogether.
Other Solutions and Considerations
The second type of staring is even worse when it comes to behavior. It is the aggressive glare that some dogs use to communicate they want you to leave them alone or stop whatever it is that you are doing. The cold hard eye is difficult to miss as it is usually accompanied by other body language cues, such as a stiff body, a full or partial baring of teeth, and is accompanied by a growl. If you spot the glare, it is best to stop whatever it is that you are doing that is threatening or annoying your dog. Instead, try to de-escalate the situation to avoid getting bitten and book an appointment with a professional dog trainer who can help combat the aggression.
Observing and understanding a dog's body language is incredibly important for both dog owners and petless individuals as it helps better evaluate their intentions and prevent accidents. Like many other animals, dogs communicate primarily through non-verbal cues, and hostile staring is one clear way a canine might be telling you to back off.
Paying attention to a dog's body language and the context clues will enable you to decipher what is being communicated such as his intentions and attitude. Dogs usually stare at their owners because they want something, whether it be a snack, a walk, or playtime. However, there are circumstances when the precious pooches stare out of unconditional admiration and those are the moments that every owner should cherish.