You might have heard it’s rude to stare. Well, your dog never learned that lesson! From love to aggression, eye contact is an important part of a dog’s vocabulary. Look no further if you’ve ever wondered, “why does my dog stare at me?” We’ve got some answers for you.
Dogs stare to show love
Just as you might look deeply into the eyes of someone you love, so does your dog. Dr Patricia McConnell, an animal behaviourist, says this ‘mutual gazing’ is a well-known social phenomenon in humans that bonds mother to child and partner to partner in romantic relationships.
One study showed that the ‘cuddle hormone’ oxytocin increases in both humans and dogs when they exchange a loving gaze.
If you and your dog are new to each other, however, don’t try to force the gaze. Let it happen naturally, and let your dog take the lead.
Wishing, hoping, and staring
We’ve all seen the “can I have some?” stare. If you’re manning the grill and there are tasty-smelling sausages on that barbecue, your dog is likely to stare at you longingly, hoping for a miracle sausage to come flying his way.
Your dog might also stare at you in anticipation. If you open the closet, he might stare to see if you reach for the leash (is it walk time?). If you reach for a cupboard in the kitchen, he might anticipate a treat.
Between dogs, staring is a cause for concern
In the canine world, a sustained stare can be a sign of aggression. Mikkel Becker, a dog behaviour expert from Seattle, says prolonged eye contact rarely occurs in friendly contexts between dogs.
“You will more frequently see one dog turn his head away from another dog in order to avoid eye contact,” she writes. “This is an appeasement gesture designed to diffuse any potential conflict and avoid a fight.”
She adds that while sustained eye contact is not a natural instinct, dogs often learn that eye contact with people can result in treats and attention.
Like many habits, your dog forms, comfort with eye contact begins as a puppy. If your dog didn’t learn the habit when young, it may make him uncomfortable if you push.
“Eye contact is one of the most important first behaviours to teach a dog,” Becker writes. “Puppyhood is the prime time to train a dog to make eye contact, but training can be done into adulthood as well — for example, with a newly adopted adult dog.”
McConnell says even the sweetest dog can give you what she calls the “hard eye.” That icy look means trouble and many trainers associate it with the potential of aggression. If your dog gives you The Look, McConnell recommends backing off and examining the context to prevent future confrontations.
Why do dogs stare when they poop?
This question comes up quite a bit among dog owners. Just why do dogs stare at us while they’re pooping? Believe it or not, they have a legitimate reason for doing this, and it may surprise you.
If your dog looks at you while it’s taking a poop, don’t be offended. Dr Kathryn Primm, a veterinarian at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, says it’s most likely his way of making sure you have his back.
“Defecation is one of the times in an animal’s life when he is at his most vulnerable,” Primm explains. “He must posture to perform the task and because of this, he is not in a position to readily fight or flee. In fact, it would be rather difficult for him to defend himself or to escape danger while he is eliminating.”
Your dog considers you part of his pack, so he’s looking to you for safety cues while he poops.
In addition, dogs may have been taught that pooping in the appropriate location (say, outside) results in attention and treats, so they may look to you in anticipation of a goodie.
Dogs and staring: the bottom line
Eye contact is just one piece of dog communication. Watch their body language for cues about their feelings, from how they lick their lips to when they yawn.
The more you learn to understand your dog’s vocabulary, the deeper your bond will be.
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