Does your dog constantly stare at you and watch your every move? The PETS Magazine team finds out why.
Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched? Do the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when you feel a pair of prying eyes following you everywhere you go?
There are plenty of dog owners out there who will answer in the affirmative to these two questions. Many of our four-legged friends seem to love nothing more than turning their piercing gaze on us and watching everything we do. It’s often cute and adorable, though it can sometimes also be a little unnerving.
But have you ever wondered why your dog spends so much time watching you? Alisa Sannikova, animal behaviour scientist from Sydney dog walking and training service Perfect Dog, says it’s important for your dog to always know what you’re up to.
“Dogs are social animals, so they spend a lot of time watching the animals and humans they live with to guide their own behaviour. The more you interact and bond with your dog, the more he will look to you to see what you’ll do next,” she says. “Watching your behaviour is especially important if the dog will want to respond appropriately, such as agreeing to play or running to the door when you’re planning to take him on a walk.”
Dogs are also quite adept at reading our body language and trying to convince us to do things for them. By watching you closely and trying to figure out your mood, they can guess whether you might be particularly susceptible to begging for a treat, asking to be taken for
a walk, or if it might be better to wait for later.
“And if they’ve gone ahead and tried a behaviour out on you, they’ll be staring at you to see whether it’s had the desired effect,” Alisa explains.
The eyes have it
There are many reasons why your dog might be watching you intently, so it can sometimes be tricky to work out exactly why their eyes are fixed on you. That being said, it’s important to remember that your pooch’s past behaviour can often be a good predictor of how she is currently behaving.
“If your dog stared at you from near the door and then you walked over and let him outside, the staring behaviour is likely to happen more often if the dog wants to go out again. The time of day, environment and whether your dog looks back and forth between you and something else around him are also all potentially useful clues,” Alisa says.
If you know your dog’s quirks, personality and unique behaviour traits, you can make an educated guess at what she wants. If she’s pleased or happy when you give it to her, that’s usually a telltale sign that you’ve interpreted her gaze correctly.
The big picture
Body language is a hugely important part of canine communication. So if you want to work out what your dog’s stare is trying to tell you, make sure to look at his body language as a whole, not just focus on his eyes.
“Intense staring eye-to-eye is actually quite confrontational in dog body language, which means staring on its own isn’t always a good thing. It’s important to look at the dog’s body language as a whole, particularly how stiff the dog looks and where her ears and tail are, in order to determine whether the dog is acting aggressively,” Alisa says.
A dog that is merely being interested or polite will be more likely to look away occasionally or get easily distracted by other sights and sounds. Her posture and movement will likely have less tension, or will be combined with happy tail wags and a gentle, open mouth.
“Similarly, a dog that is scared of you or anxious is likely to be watching you to see whether she needs to make a quick getaway or fight for her safety. Understanding dog body language is an important skill to have when you need to determine if a dog might be thinking about aggression,” Alisa explains.
The animal behaviour scientist also points out that staring, especially when the dog is intently fixated on the object being stared at, is the first of a sequence of behaviours that is used for hunting — stare, stalk, chase, pounce, grab and bite or shake. When these behaviours occur individually, they can be used for different purposes or in different contexts: for example, normal dog play may include chasing or pouncing, but that doesn’t mean the other dog is getting hurt.
“However, sometimes this staring behaviour can be triggered by another dog or cat, and the more these hunting behaviours occur in a row, the more likely it is that your dog is tapping into his hunting instincts instead of play,” Alisa says. “Keeping an eye out for unusually intense staring behaviour either from or directed towards your dog will help you notice and interrupt potentially harmful situations before they escalate.”
Once you know the telltale signs to look for, you’ll be able to determine exactly why your dog is watching you — and exactly what he
or she wants in return.