The Ridiculously Cute Reason Your Dog Stares At You

If you have a dog, you’re probably all too familiar with the experience of looking over and seeing them staring you down. Even if your pup has already been out for its walk, eaten its breakfast, and been played with a bit, it won’t take its gaze off you. Since dogs can’t talk, it makes it impossible to know what’s going through their heads. Are they sad? In pain? What’s going on? In fact, the real reason your dog stares at you is much simpler (and way cuter).

Researchers have been studying dog psychology for decades in an effort to understand what makes our canine friends tick. Strangely enough, one of the first things they looked into was why our four-legged friends tend to stare at us so often.

“One of the first discoveries in dog cognition research that led to a lot of future studies is that dogs will look us in the eyes and at our faces in a way that’s very unusual for animals,” explains Alexandra Horowitz, a professor of canine cognition from Barnard College, Columbia University, per BBC’s Science Focus.

While some people might wrongly assume that staring is an aggressive behavior, that’s not actually the case for dogs. “It’s not that no other animals do this, but most animals use staring as a threat display. Wolves, for instance, will stare down an unknown wolf, maybe to avoid a conflict,” Horowitz added.

Why your dog stares at you

While researchers are still trying to fully understand this behavior, we do pretty much know that our dogs keep their eyes on us as a way of determining what to do themselves. In other words, they’re staring because they’re analyzing our actions to plan their own.

“You control their world. Dogs are, and I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, captive to us for the most part,” Horowitz says. “We designate when they eat, when they can go out and socialize and sniff the world, and where they can urinate and defecate. We’re in control of all of the things that they want to do, and they want to see when that’s going to happen.”

However, it goes even deeper than that. We already know that dogs can read our emotions very effectively – hence the reason they come to give us licks and cuddles when they notice we’re upset. By staring at us, our dogs can figure out how we’re feeling and interpret that because they know us so well.

“Humans use gazing at each other as an intimate gesture. It’s something you do with people you’re friendly with. It’s also used for communication – you get somebody’s attention by looking at them and you hold their gaze when speaking to them,” Horowitz continues.

“We find it very appealing, and somewhere along the way we either selected dogs that will look at our faces – or dogs selected themselves in some way. We think this indicates they are interested in us and that they understand us. But at minimum, they’re looking for information from us and they know that our faces are the source of a lot of that.”

How cute is that?! No wonder we love dogs so much — they love us just as much!

Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @jenniferlstill