Despite the fact that we don’t speak the same language, ask any fur parent and they’ll be able to tell you exactly what each bark or poke means.
I have to potty!
There’s a stranger outside!
As different species we’ve really managed to bridge the word gap in some pretty amazing ways.
And it makes sense, after all dogs and people are both group animals. We rely on being able to communicate with one another whether when our ancestors hunted large game or this morning we ordered a large coffee.
However, there are a few behaviors that many of us may still find baffling.
You may be working at your computer, glance over, and notice your pup has been staring at you. Perhaps they watch you while they’re working over their favorite toy. Maybe as soon as you go into the bathroom to do your business, as if on cue, your fur baby dutifully trots in after and locks eyes. (Anyone else…?)
Many of us were raised with the idea that ‘it’s rude to stare’, so when someone of the human persuasion does we take note. And normally we can tell what is being conveyed! Are we in the midst of a heated discussion? Do we have something stuck to our face? Are things about to get steamy?
So knowing how big our pups are on communication, it’s only natural to wonder what it means when they do the same.
Going Back to Wolves
We’ve probably all seen it: two dogs begin staring at one another which at times can lead to a confrontation or perhaps play session. Either way, it seems to be a kind of staring game of chicken.
Most of the time, however, that’s not what’s being conveyed when we stare lovingly into our pups eyes or catch them gazing from under the dinner table.
So where does this come from?
As it turns out, as with many other behaviors, our pups come by it naturally from their wolfie ancestors.
A study based out of Japan was curious to learn more about the staring between 26 canid species (basically wolves, foxes, bush dogs, and so on). What they found was that the animals that hunted and lived in packs also had another thing in common: they stared at each other longer.
Now, granting this ‘longer’ was about 1 to 2 seconds longer on average, it was still consistent. And it makes sense, after all, if the precise actions of the group working together is the difference between dinner and going hungry, you’re going to need a quick, efficient, and silent way to communicate.
What Does Staring Mean Now
It makes sense that wolves communicate with their eyes, and even as there are some behaviors that we humans hold over from our days as hunter/gatherers so, too, do our pups.
But as our fur babies - with very, very rare exception in certain unfortunate situations - haven’t had to rely on pack hunting to survive, they have also been socialized to us humans! So their staring vocabulary has grown significantly larger than their wolf grandparents.
Our Dogs Are Trying To Tell Us Something
While bringing down scraps from the table is vastly different than bringing down an antelope, to us at least, those big puppy eyes stem from the same place.
You may notice that your fur baby will stare at you when they want to go out. They’ll stare when they want a treat from the table. Dog’s aren’t exactly able to voice their opinions and desires in the same way a child is, and staring is often their first go to for communication.
Bear in mind that some of these staring behaviors may actually be made worse by… you. Yes, you.
For example, if your pup routinely posts up at your side while you're eating dinner and stares into your soul and you give them a little something yummy from the table. You’ve just trained them that their staring is the fast track to delicious table treats.
Similarly, if they stare when they want to go outside to potty and you pick up on it and let them out, they know that is what they need to do.
All in all, this may not be bad! After all, a long stare isn’t the worst way to communicate, “I’ve gotta go!” The problem is that stares can be harder to tell apart then barks or other behaviors and a lot easier to miss.
A couple things you might try if you feel this is the case and want to shift that behavior are:
- Reward your pup for chewing a bone in their bed while you eat dinner
Train your fur baby to ring a bell when they want to potty
As we mentioned before, a lot of times dog staring can indicate anger, discomfort, or possessiveness - which is why you never want to stare at a dog you don’t know or hold a dog forcing them to stare at you! In doggy language that is considered a very aggressive move and can end really unfortunately.
Other times when it’s important to watch for staring in a worrisome way is if your pup stares along with a stiff, uncomfortable posture, when they have food or a high value treat.
This behavior is known as “resource guarding” and is a good thing to address because it can escalate.
If you do notice your pup resource guarding, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional trainer or behaviorist to address it before it possibly gets out of control.
They’re Looking for Guidance
If you’ve ever trained your dog, you might notice that when they are really keyed in they will lock eyes with you. This is great! Because training is much more effective, quicker, and easier when your pup is paying attention to you without distraction.
They will become accustomed to looking to you for direction, which can also extend to times beyond training.
You may notice that your pup will look at you if coming across something new or unexpected even at times outside of training. This just means your fur baby is looking to you for direction.
Likewise, there are times when your pup may look to you for permission, to know whether or not something is safe, or even if they don’t understand something.
Because They Like Us!
Of course, sharing feelings through staring isn’t always bad! In the same way we want to look lovingly at our fur baby, it turns out they want to do the same.
For humans, when we stare - in a positive way - oxytocin, sometimes called the ‘love hormone’ is released. Scientists discovered that our pups also experience a release of oxytocin when they stare at us. The release of oxytocin in both us and our pups allows us to bond more strongly.
So for both us and our fur babies, staring can be a matter of bonding, closeness, and just because we like each other!
For whatever reason your pup stares at you, it’s helpful to understand where they’re coming from so that you can better understand them. And better understanding your fur baby means better being able to care for and provide them with the best lives imaginable.
Do you and your pup stare at each other? Share it with us on Instagram at @joyrideharness we’d love to see! For more doggie photos and pup-related fun, give us a follow and be sure to check out our other blog posts that are filled with fur baby information, how tos, and more!