NutriSource Blogs

Why is my dog staring at me? Your top questions answered about the canine gaze

February 25, 2023

Having a dog means living under the canine gaze. Have you ever wondered what’s going through their minds when they’re locked in on you?

Dogs are intensely interested in humans, so they keep a close eye on us. They stare when they want something you have — like just a piece of your chicken tenders, please. They stare when they expect you to do something, like get out of bed, already, and let them outside. And then there’s that soft, slightly squinted gaze when they look deep into your eyes.

On the other hand, canines also growl in response to a stare-down, taking it as a sign of domination or confrontation.

Exploring these questions about dogs and why they stare provides a revealing look at the elements of their nature and how they evolved to live with humans.

Is it normal for dogs to stare?

Keeping watch over their human — it’s another key element of your dog’s nature. Of all the animals we domesticated, dogs are the most interested in humans and what they’re up to. When your dog is alert and tracking your movements as you get ready for work, prepare dinner or go about your day, keeping an eye on you is perfectly normal dog behavior.

What does it mean when your dog stares at you and whines?

Dogs stare when they want or need something, and it’s part of their built-in alert system to communicate with humans.

If they really want it, they’ll throw in a bit of whining, or — depending on the breed — yowls, barks and other vocalizations, just for good measure.

Sometimes you can tell time by their alert, watchful monitoring of your movements. Your dog may do this when it’s time for evening walks or mealtime. Other times, you have to do a little detective work to figure out what they want — are they hungry, do they want to play? Is their chew toy out of reach under the sofa?

When you think back to when it all began, wolves began their domestication into dogs over the food shared by humans. Was there a first wolf to understand the connection between waiting quietly and getting a meaty handout? Possibly, and it’s easy to picture the wolf waiting with a patient, pleading gaze.

Should you stare into a dog’s eyes?

Canine lore tells us to never look a dog in the eye. Because among wolves and other dogs, leaning in for a stare is a surefire sign of aggression or challenging rank.

Yes, in certain situations, it’s advisable to avoid staring into a dog’s eyes. Reactive or fearful dogs can interpret your direct gaze as a threat — triggering growls, snapping and other defenses.

When you meet a new canine buddy, play it safe and avoid direct eye contact until you know. Most confident, well-socialized dogs understand that eye contact from a human is positive. But even a friendly dog can still feel leery under the direct gaze of an unfamiliar human, so go slow and take your cues from them.

Tip: Eye contact during a game of tug is very exciting to dogs! They’ll respond with harder tugs and growling. So be mindful of your pup’s triggers if he’s still working on good sportsmanship to ensure the game ends on a happy note.

Do dogs like eye contact?

“Don’t stare at a dog” is by no means an absolute rule. Eye contact is also an adaptation of canines to better connect and bond with humans, as the following research-proven examples show:

  • Puppy eyes: Dogs seem to know they can get to us by dialing up the puppy eyes. We reward it by giving them what they want — pets, treats, ear scratches. That’s because dogs developed an “inner eyebrow” enabling them to produce human-like facial expressions — and a wide-eyed, vulnerable look that’s scientifically proven to transform the human heart into mush.
  • Feel-good hormones: Locking eyes with your furry friend releases oxytocin into the bloodstream — the hormone associated with love and connection.

Element: Nature’s intention perfected

Dogs are truly in their element when you serve up a hearty meal packed with animal protein. As they can instinctively surmise, meat provides what their bodies need to thrive. NutriSource Element Series starts with premium-sourced meat that entices their appetites. But only the Element Series perfects nature’s intention with cutting-edge nutrition concepts that restore gut health and optimize digestion of this high-protein diet.

Spending locally builds strong communities, so look for NutriSource Element Series at your neighborhood pet supplier.