You’re sitting watching TV — but your dog only has eyes for you. You’re cooking dinner, and the pooch is laser-focused on your face. You head to the bathroom and… you get the idea. If there’s one thing almost all dogs do well, it’s stare at their owners. And stare. And stare.

But why do they do it? There are four main reasons: attention, confusion, desire, and direction.

Your dog wants you to notice her. This one is often tied into desire because she wants you to do something for her, but it’s not necessarily as specific as “rub my belly” or “throw me the ball.” When your dog wants attention, those things are fine, but she’ll probably be just as happy with any kind of love and affection from you — after she’s had exercise and discipline, of course.

Do you ever talk to yourself while engaging in a task and find that your pup is watching you closely, seemingly following every word? Another reason that dogs stare at us is because they are trying to figure out what we want from them. They don’t want to miss a possible cue or get yelled at for doing something wrong. Plus, sometimes they’re just curious about what the heck we’re doing!

I mentioned desire earlier when talking about attention, but it goes a lot deeper than the examples I cited. In fact, this is the type of staring dog owners tend to notice most often, because it covers a variety of “wants” from their pups — everything from “feed me, I’m hungry” to “toss the ball” to “I need to go for a walk” to, yes, “rub my belly.” Staring while engaging in a specific action, such as holding his leash in his mouth, is your dog’s way of saying: “This is what I want. I will make you give it to me by controlling you with my eyes.” Okay, technically, that’s not exactly what they’re saying, but you get the idea.

The final reason that dogs stare is they want you to tell them what to do. In some ways, this is related to confusion, but it’s not as straightforward as them making a general attempt to figure out what’s going on. When a dog stares for direction, it’s often because they are in the midst of training or some other kind of specific activity and want to know what to do next.

There is one more stare that it is vital to understand. Some dogs possess an aggressive stare that essentially says, “Don’t mess with me” or “I’m going to take you out.” Before assuming that a dog’s stare is friendly, make sure you pay attention to the rest of their body language, or you could put yourself in harm’s way.

So the next time you notice your dog burning a hole through you with her eyes, don’t assume that she’s just expressing her undying devotion. If you pay attention to the context clues, you may discover that she’s trying to communicate something much more specific.

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