What are the reasons behind all that eye contact?
If you have a dog, you probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out dog behaviour. Like us, dogs are complex creatures, and it can be hard to know what’s behind your dog’s actions.
When you’re asking them to sit or giving them a treat, eye contact means that their attention is on you and that they’re ready to (hopefully) listen. But sometimes your pup will look at you without being prompted, or give you the doggy side-eye when you’re not even doing anything interesting, just watching TV. There are a few reasons why your dog might stare at you – even when you don’t call its name or do something to get its attention.
Why does my dog stare at me?
In general, dogs use eye contact to gain information and understand what their human wants them to do, says Philip Tedeschi, professor and researcher on the human-animal bond with pet-sitting business Rover. “Dogs use eye contact as reassurance and understanding in very similar ways that humans do, to ascertain interpersonal connection and reaction. This helps us connect with them as well,” he says.
In especially good news for pooch parents, science confirms that dogs use eye contact to express affection. How do you tell if a dog loves you? Well, if he stares at you, it’s a good sign! “Just like humans gaze into each other’s eyes to show love and affection, so does your dog,” says Tedeschi. “In fact, one study showed that the ‘cuddle’ hormone oxytocin increases in both humans and dogs when they exchange a loving gaze.”
If the eye contact between a dog and a human is too long or too intense it might lead to discomfort in the dog – similar to the way two humans staring at each other for a prolonged period of time would make them uncomfortable, according to Tedeschi. So what do you do if your dog stares at you? Look back, but not for too long. Dogs get awkward, too!
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Do dogs use eye contact to try to communicate with humans?
Eye contact is actually not a natural instinct for dogs, but over time they learn that eye contact can often lead to attention or food from their humans. So, if you see your dog looking to the side, or notice he’s staring at you in a classic, cute, looking-up puppy eyes kind of way, it probably means he wants something.
“Dogs will often stare when you’re doing something that piques their curiosity – like grilling up something that smells tasty or opening the cupboard where the treats are – to see if they can get in on the fun too,” says Tedeschi. So, next time you catch your hound staring, try giving it a cuddle.
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