Why Does My Dog Stare at Me?

A dog staring at their owner is often interpreted as a way of expressing their devotion.

However, on occasion, the discovery that your four-legged friend has had its eyes pointedly fixed on you for long periods can feel disconcerting.

But while this act can seem bizarre and at times a little bit too intense, your pet's motivation for this phenomenon may not be quite what it seems.

Newsweek spoke with animal behavior experts as to why your dog is staring at you.

Why Does My Dog Always Stare At Me?

Zazie Todd, author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, suggests dogs use gazes to communicate with us, particularly when content to be in their masters' presence.

She told Newsweek: "Think about the context and pay attention to the rest of their body language.

"Maybe they are watching you closely to see when it's mealtime or time for a walk.

"Maybe they are staring at you because they are happy and comfortable in your presence, in which case their eyes will be soft, and they will be displaying relaxed body language including a relaxed, open mouth."

chihuahua dog
Dogs seem to spend a great deal of time staring at their masters. damedeeso/Getty Images

Why Does My Dog Sit and Stare at Me?

The Dog Is Looking For Clues

Monique Udell, Associate Professor of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University, believes dogs can pick up on subtle body language by staring at humans for long stretches.

She told Newsweek: "There are many reasons a dog might spend a lot of time looking at humans.

"For many pet dogs, human caretakers control most aspects of their lives from access to food, water and shelter to social attention and interaction, and even the ability to go outside.

"Watching people closely can provide dogs with important clues as to what may be coming and what may be attainable in a given moment, which may be one reason dogs become so adept at reading our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice."

Dr. Mary R. Burch, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and AKC Family Dog Director, also notes dogs who have been trained to have eye contact with their owners will appear to stare when they are in training situations.

She told Newsweek: "In obedience trials, dogs are trained to "Watch me," so they don't miss a hand signal or another important cue.

"Sometimes, your dog only has eyes for you, and this is a good thing, whatever the reason."

long-haired Dachshund
Your dog’s stare is not reflecting judgement. Goroda/Getty Images

The Dog Wants Something

Todd also suggests canines can use a clever trick to communicate with their human household.

She said: "Dogs use something called gaze alternation when they want something from you.

"So for example, if they are looking at you, then look at a ball or toy that is out of reach, then look at you again, they are probably asking you to help them get it!"

One 2017 academic study has even suggested canines are so effective at manipulating this tool, individual differences in cooperative communicative skills are "more similar between dogs and humans than chimpanzees."

A Warning Sign

One should always be conscious of the fact puppy eyes are not the only glance in the canine vocabulary.

Todd said: "A hard stare can be a warning sign that your dog is unhappy or even considering going on the offensive, especially if it is combined with other body language signals such as a growl or snarl, or an upright and still or tightly wagging tail (not to be confused with a loose, wide, friendly wag).

"With a hard stare, you can often see the whites of the dog's eyes, something we call 'whale eye'.

"If you see a dog displaying these signals, remember what we teach children about how not to get bitten by a dog: be a tree."

Why Does My Dog Stare At Me
Dogs have many reasons for turning their gaze on their masters Halfpoint/Getty Images

Social Evolution

Monique Udell also believes biology may be the cause of the dog's intense lingering looks.

She said: "Dogs have also been shown to exhibit delays in their social development compared to wild canines, and this appears to be tied to genetic changes associated in part with domestication.

"One noteworthy behavioral trait associated with this change is greater focus on social companions, including more time spent seeking their proximity and looking at them.

"This intense social focus is more like what we would expect from juveniles of social species than adults, but many dogs maintain this intense social focus throughout their lives.

"This hyper-social behavior may contribute to their success in living with and around humans but can also interfere with independent problem-solving success in some cases."

Why Does My Dog Stare At Me
It is always best to keep an eye out for body language and make sure to keep away if the signs point to a fearful or worried dog. PavelRodimov/Getty Images

Why Does My Dog Stare At Me When I Sleep?

One of the strangest aspects of a dog staring at their master, is how this can occur even while the human is asleep.

While the Dog Advisory Council believes this took can be explained by the explanations above, its experts suggest two more possible causes for this act.

It states on its site: "There is every possibility your pet wants to play when he stares at you while sleeping. It may also be hungry and is trying to call your attention by staring.

However, there is thought to be a more worry worrying reason behind this strange fixation.

The Council's site said: "This sometimes happens to dogs and may lead to a compulsive disorder resulting in abnormal outbursts of behaviors.

"If your dog fixes its eyes on inanimate objects for an extended period, something may be wrong. It may develop an obsession for them, which may affect their quality of life."

Why Does My Dog Stare At Me
Your dog can also check on you while sleeping. ~UserGI15613517/Getty Images